NBC confronts 'difficult' Olympics ratings amid China's 'complicated' relationship with rest of the world

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NBC executives are not concerned about the low viewership that the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics has brought, and instead are looking to their streaming service for success. 

The Hollywood Reporter notes that the first portion of the Winter Olympics have brought significantly reduced viewership compared to the 2018 Olympic Games, which were held in PyeongChang, South Korea.

NBC Sports chairman Pete Bevacqua said that the ratings for the Winter Olympic games are “difficult,” but said that they are about what he expected.

“For us, it’s been difficult. There’s no way around this,” Bevacqua told The Hollywood Reporter. “The fact that we’ve been able to bring these Games to life during a pandemic with only a six-month window between the two [Olympics], the ratings are — of course we always want to have the ratings better — but the ratings for these Games, as I said, are about where we thought they’d be.”

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 The Comcast/NBC Universal building also known as the UCP10 is seen in Universal City on Wednesday, June 2, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. 

 The Comcast/NBC Universal building also known as the UCP10 is seen in Universal City on Wednesday, June 2, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. 
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Bevacqua said that a decrease in spectators often means a decrease in viewership, which is being seen with these Olympic Games.

“It’s no secret that athletes in masks, venues without spectators, so much of the passion and excitement, those great moments of Olympic athletes hugging their family and friends and spouses and partners, so much of that magic is just out of necessity not present,” Bevacqua said. “Look at the difference in NFL ratings in ’21 compared to ’20. I think one of the main differences is because in ’20, we didn’t have the passionate NFL fan base in those stadiums adding to the atmosphere. We did our best out of necessity. But this year, those fans were back and the ratings showed that.”

However, NBC now has a focus on the next Olympic Games, when Paris hosts the Summer Olympics in 2024, stating that he hopes the pandemic will be “well beyond us” by then.

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Yu-Ting Huang of Team Chinese Taipei skates during a speed skating practice session ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at National Speed Skating Oval on January 31, 2022 in Beijing, China.

Yu-Ting Huang of Team Chinese Taipei skates during a speed skating practice session ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at National Speed Skating Oval on January 31, 2022 in Beijing, China.
(Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

“Why I’m energized is I think about where we’re going, think about Paris and Italy and LA. And, knock on wood, not just for the Olympics, but for the sake of all of us, hopefully this pandemic is well beyond us by then, we have those spectators back in these venues bursting at the seams, we have those passionate family and friends and athletes without masks hugging each other and celebrating these Olympic achievements,” Bevacqua said. “We have our eye on that normalized future coming back into focus as we work our way through this pandemic, so that’s why we’re hopeful.”

Bevacqua said that improvements have been made to their streaming service, Peacock, and said that it has received good reception from viewers.

“I think we’ve made real drastic improvements on what we’ve done with Peacock,” Bevacqua said. “When you grade our performance in Tokyo versus Beijing, and when you see the reception that Peacock has received from the Peacock subscribers and the Peacock customers, the fact that you can go there for all things Olympic has been a nice supplement to all of our prime coverage, our prime plus and our prime west coverage.”

In this photo illustration a NBC logo seen displayed on a smartphone. 

In this photo illustration a NBC logo seen displayed on a smartphone. 
(Photo Illustration by Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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Molly Solomon, NBC’s executive producer for Olympic coverage, told The Hollywood Reporter that she’s “incredibly proud” at how the network has provided perspective on “China’s complicated relationship with the rest of the world,” pointing to Savannah Guthrie and Mike Tirico covering the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics opening games when a Uyghur athlete lit the Olympic torch.

“This moment is quite provocative. It’s a statement from the Chinese President Xi Jinping to choose an athlete from the Uighur minority. It is an in your face response to those Western nations, including the U.S., who have called this Chinese treatment of that group genocide and diplomatically boycotted these games. There will be much discussion about this,” Guthrie said during the opening ceremony.

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