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TV viewers tune out of Tokyo Games

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This woman has her choice of screens in a Tokyo electronics store – but around the world people are tuning out. Photo: Getty
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Apart from those in Australia and host nation Japan, global broadcasters won’t be taking home any gold medals for how many people have watched the Tokyo Olympic Games so far.

In several major markets around the world, the TV audience has fallen since 2016, as viewing becomes more fragmented and athletes compete in Japan when audiences are mostly asleep in the US and Europe.

But in Australia, where the Games are being broadcast on Seven Network’s Channel Seven, sister channel 7mate and streaming service 7plus, 2.7 million viewers watched the opening ceremony nationally, the company said in a press release.

That was up 20 per cent from the TV audience for the Rio opener. But the audience declined on both Saturday and Sunday nights, by 11 per cent and 7 per cent respectively, the Seven West Media-owned company said.

In the host country of Japan, where the majority of the public has opposed hosting the Games during the pandemic, the opening ceremony was watched by more than 70 million people and was the most watched event in the past 10 years, Yiannis Exarchos, CEO of Olympic Broadcasting Services, said.

But ratings data from the opening ceremony and first few nights of events indicate that the Tokyo Games are currently the least watched Olympics in recent history across Europe and in the US.

Comparisons with previous Olympic Games are imperfect given the different times zones, the COVID pandemic and fewer streaming options in past Games, but a downward trend is clear.

The opening ceremony last Friday drew 16.9 million US TV viewers, the smallest audience for the event in the past 33 years, according to Nielsen data provided by NBCUniversal.

US TV viewership hit a high of 19.4 million on Sunday night but has been downhill since then, dropping to 15.7 million on Tuesday.

In a call with analysts on Thursday, Jeff Shell, the chief executive of NBCUniversal – which paid $US7.65 billion ($A10.53 billion) to extend its US broadcast rights for the Olympics through 2032 – attributed record-low ratings to several factors.

“We had a little bit of bad luck, there was a drumbeat of negativity, we got moved a year, no spectators,” Mr Shell said.

“That has resulted in a little bit of linear ratings being probably less than we expected.”

Viewership has also declined across Europe where – like the US – the time zone in Japan presents a challenge for broadcasters.

Britain’s publicly owned broadcaster, the BBC, says it had a peak live audience of 2.3 million, and 944,000 online streams, for the opening ceremony on Friday, which started around lunchtime (British time).

That’s a 39.4 per cent decline from the BBC’s peak live audience for the Rio opening ceremony, and a 61 per cent decline from the BBC’s peak live audience for the 2008 Beijing opener.

Over the first three days of the Games, 769,000 viewers tuned in on one of France’s three public TV channels, not including Discovery Inc-owned broadcaster Eurosport, according to data from audience measurement company Mediametrie.

That audience represents a 17.4 per cent decline from the same period during 2016’s Rio Games and a 74 per cent decline from the 2012 London Games.

-AAP