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These Olympics May Feel Like Less Of A Blockbuster Than Past Games. Here's Why


This year's Olympics have been a challenge for NBC. TV ratings are down from the Rio Games in 2016, and that includes audiences from streaming services and cable channels owned by NBCUniversal. Also, these Olympic Games are being played without crowds, and even commentary from Kevin Hart and Snoop Dogg has not built up the hype. We have got NPR TV critic Eric Deggans with us.

Hey there, Eric.


KELLY: Now, how far are the ratings down? How many people are tuning in?

DEGGANS: Well, the latest ratings from NBC show an average total audience of 16.8 million viewers watching across the broadcast network's streaming and cable, which is about a 40% decline from the Rio Games in 2016. Now, NBC would be quick to note that this is a high viewership number if you compare it to anything else that's in prime-time television, except maybe Sunday Night Football. And they say that about one-third of Americans have watched the Olympics somewhere on TV, and they've noshed (ph) about 2.5 billion minutes streaming the Olympics on their streaming service Peacock, nbcolympics.com and the NBC Sports app.

KELLY: Now, speaking of streaming, I'm wondering if that's part of what's going on, that there's just so much competition for viewers now.

DEGGANS: For sure. I mean, you know, viewership for the average network TV show on prime time has also fallen about 40%. So, you know, you could have predicted this decline. But I think NBC also had a bad luck problem. I mean, going into the Games, you had the superstar athletes that were hyped up to be big stars, but they didn't perform so well. You know, Simone Biles, the gymnast, pulled herself out of several competitions. Naomi Osaka, the tennis star, got knocked out of competition. And the women's soccer team has had some stinging defeats.

Now, we've had a new crop of stars kind of step up to do well, but casual sports fans, they don't know these people. And even though this may sound a little like sour grapes coming from somebody at NPR who has to actually cover the Olympics, but I think NBC has been so tightly controlling about footage from these Games that maybe it's been tough for people to turn that footage into memes and the kinds of things of social media that might actually, you know, sort of build...

KELLY: Yeah, yeah.

DEGGANS: ...Get people talking about what's happening

KELLY: And how much do we think this might be to do with these are Games happening during a pandemic? I mean, there are no crowds. Some people are arguing these Games should not be being held at all. Has that damper on enthusiasm for the Games translated into dampening enthusiasm for watching the Games?

DEGGANS: That might be a good point. I think NBC and maybe the Olympic Committee wanted to - wanted the Games to show the world kind of emerging from the pandemic. But instead, we've seen a world that's still struggling with the pandemic. And there's been a lot of negative noise around this Olympics, which I think may have reached some casual fans. I mean, everything from the terrible insults online that Biles had to endure when she pulled out of some events because of her decision to safeguard her mental health to NBC's sometimes grating cheerleading for American athletes.

But when you actually watch the Games, you see this spirit of Olympic competition on impressive display. I mean, you've got athletes that have trained their whole lives for these moments. Some of them, the experts didn't even expect them to do well. And they're really stepping up, and we're seeing wonderful competition. So I hope that anybody who might consider not watching because of all the negative noise would consider that, if they don't watch, they're also turning their back on these athletes who didn't have a lot to do with the negativity that's out there.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, I will confess, I have been trying to watch, and I have found it tricky sometimes to find what I'm trying to watch. As someone - you know, this is your job.

DEGGANS: (Laughter).

KELLY: Have you managed to navigate all the platforms and all the events?

DEGGANS: Well, see, I'm defined as a casual sports fan. So for me, you know, I would go on to Peacock and I can see stuff on demand, or I can tune on to NBC and I'm happy to watch whatever is being covered there because they're covering it really well. I would suggest that people go to nbcolympics.com. There's a lot of good scheduling information, and you can see when specific sports are playing if that's what you're interested in. And of course, you know, if you want to see Kevin Hart and Snoop Dogg talking about the Olympics - I loved when Snoop saw a horse prancing and said that the horse was Crip-walking, and he wanted to put him in a video. You want to see that, you got to log on at Peacock because that's where the show is.

KELLY: You got to go, yeah. All right. Go to YouTube. NPR's Eric Deggans.

Thank you, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thank you.


Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.