Viewership of NBC’s Olympics coverage soared on Saturday as fans turned out for what might have been Michael Phelps’ final outing in an Olympic competition.
The swimmer, who now holds the all-time Olympic record for most individual gold medals with 13, helped Team USA take the gold in the men’s 100-meter relay, adding a 23rd overall gold medal to Phelps’ trophy case. Phelps, 31, has not confirmed whether he intends to compete in the 2020 summer games.
Viewership of NBC’s primetime coverage of the Rio games spiked to 25.5 million viewers, or a 16.4 household rating and 30 share, up more than a full point from the 15.5 household average for the games to date.
The crowd peaked at 32.7 million viewers, or a 20.4/36 household rating, from 10-10:15 p.m. ET, when Phelps was in the pool.
This is a boon for these games, which have been suffering ratings-wise compared to the London Olympics four years ago. The lead-up to Rio was filled with so much bad news that people were put off before anything ever got going. These games also started about a week later than the London games and are running smack into back-to-school time here in the U.S.
Another factor that may be dragging down ratings and is hard to quantify is the number of people who are merely opting for watching replays, which are available (legal or not) all over social media almost immediately. NBC has tried to control this but a network can’t police all of the people on Facebook and Twitter. The network is also providing replays for those who can’t get around to watching until the next day.
It is impossible to tell, but overall interest may not be down appreciably at all. The current model of making people wait until prime time even though the results have been ubiquitous online for several hours really isn’t conducive to building upon television ratings of previous years. The cable cord-cutters aren’t able to avail themselves of all of the streaming options either. As with all things television right now, this is a work in progress, and not really all that informative as a head-to-head comparison with numbers from the past.