This is admittedly anecdotal and I’ll listen to arguments that I’m off on this. But it felt as if the Olympics got off to somewhat of a slow start in terms of buzz and general viewer interest.
Maybe it was because NBC, which is broadcasting the PyeongChang Winter Games in South Korea through Feb. 25, was also the television home of Super Bowl LII. The network has branded this month the “Best Feb Ever,’’ but at least in New England, football was the focal point of NBC programming before we even began considering the Olympics. The Olympics sneaked up on us, inasmuch as the Olympics can.
The ratings don’t necessarily confirm this, though. Through the first five days, NBC’s Winter Olympic ratings across all platforms were down 6 percent from Sochi four years ago. Given the significant dip in television viewership no matter the subject or outlet during that span, that was not a significant falloff. In fact, it was one NBC says it was expecting.
“If you look at the total media landscape, if you’re down roughly 5 percent over a four-year period, there is nothing doing as well as that in television,’’ said Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC broadcasting and sports. “So we’re doing very, very well. We sold over $900 million of advertising for these Games, and that part of it was prime time, part of it was daytime, part of it was digital, part of it was broadcast, and we are very excited about the way audiences have found the Games.
“What we’ve seen here is that people are coming for the Olympics. They’re coming and they’re staying at a relatively even level throughout the evening, and that’s very encouraging.’’
No matter what the ratings suggest about the start of the Olympics or how the first few days might have seemed viscerally, this much is certain: The numbers are trending in a direction that must satisfy NBC. Like a distance athlete who knows just how to set the right pace, NBC’s Olympics coverage has hit its stride as the Games approach their midpoint.
Consider some ratings data from the past few days:
Monday — NBC and NBC Sports Network’s coverage earned a 14.5 rating and 24 overnight share, up 6 percent from the first Monday in Sochi (13.7/21) four years ago. NBC and NBCSN’s Olympic ratings more than tripled the No. 2 show in prime time, “The Bachelor’’ on ABC (4.3/7).
Tuesday — Ratings (15.2/25) were up 5 percent over the first Tuesday in Sochi, with NBC/NBCSN more than doubling the programming on CBS, ABC, and Fox (7.3 total).
Wednesday — Much of the same. Ratings were nearly identical to the first Wednesday in Sochi (13.1/22 now; 13.2/21 four years ago) and doubled the ratings of the three other primary networks combined.
Some of the recent ratings success has been driven by star power. Monday’s ratings peaked from 9:30-9:45 p.m., just after Chloe Kim’s gold medal win in halfpipe (17.7/27). And NBC got its highest ratings in a 15-minute block so far (19.6/31) during these Olympics Tuesday, when pairs figure skating as well as a snowboarding competition featuring Shaun White aired in the 10-10:15 p.m. window.
“Stories are being made with new athletes and new stars, but we’ve still got [more established] stars to come,’’ said Lazarus, noting that Lindsey Vonn hasn’t skied yet. “I think we’re very encouraged by the way the audiences are coming for the Games regardless of what the specific content is, because they’re watching it all, whether it’s biathlon or speedskating or figure skating or the snow sports.’’
Lazarus said he was pleased with the performance of Mike Tirico, who replaced longtime host Bob Costas for these Olympics, anchoring prime-time coverage.
“[His strengths include] his ability to tell stories. His ability to take those stories and come through the screen and do it in a way that I think viewers of all kinds, men, women, children find accessible and pleasing in a way,’’ said Lazarus. “Then watching him do interviews here, whether they were on tape with athletes or athletes’ families, and then really something that’s just started, because the Games just started, seeing him in the studio with the athletes or with their parents and his ability to connect with them and draw them out and make them feel comfortable, give them an interesting story line for the viewers. All of that combined makes him a great prime-time host.’’
For the relative success so far of NBC’s coverage of these Olympics, it does appear Boston is remaining parochial about its sports. The city has not cracked the top 10 nationally any night so far in terms of viewership. Typically, the cities with the highest ratings in share have been the likes of Salt Lake City, Denver, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Buffalo, among others.