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Pyeongchang Olympics yields viewership highs, lows

The Pyeongchang Olympics is over, and from a viewership perspective, the competition ranks as the least-watched, yet most-dominant Winter Olympics in prime time.

This dichotomy speaks to the evolving media space. This year, for the first time, U.S. Olympic rights-holder NBCUniversal Media LLC melded average-minute viewing on broadcaster NBC (US), cable network NBCSN (US) and streaming of the action on NBCOlympics.com and NBC Sports app. Gauged by Total Audience Delivery, the Pyeongchang Games coverage averaged 19.8 million viewers in prime time from Feb. 8 through Feb. 25, according to data from Nielsen Holdings and Adobe Analytics. The total audience viewership crushed the competition from NBC's rival broadcast networks in prime time but trailed the 21.3 million prime-time viewership average from the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, which aired only on the broadcast network, by 7%.

It also marked the first time the Olympics failed to crack the 20 million average audience plateau, with Pyeongchang now standing as the least-watched games in prime time behind the 20.2 million for NBC's coverage from Torino in 2006. NBCU only managed to surpass the corresponding night audience from Sochi twice — 20.5 million to 18.9 million on Feb. 20, the games' second Tuesday, and 13.5 million to 13.3 million on Feb. 24, the third Saturday.

Even so, the Pyeongchang Olympics joined the Sochi Games in delivering the top-rated program across television on all 18 nights of coverage, compared with 14 of 17 from Vancouver in 2010 and eight of 17 from Torino, Italy in 2006. FOX (US)'s "American Idol" was a dominant culture and viewing force airing against earlier games in the last decade.

The Pyeongchang Games performed well for NBCSN, as its varied coverage produced a total-day average of 768,000 through Feb. 25, putting it on pace to deliver its most-watched month ever and surpass ESPN as the most-watched sports cable network for the month with that measure. NBCSN scored the two most-watched late night shows in its history, averaging 2.9 million viewers on Feb. 21 with the U.S. women's gold medal victory over Canada in hockey, and 1.6 million on Feb. 23, when the U.S. men topped Sweden to win the curling competition.

NBC Sports Digital livestreamed every event, including the first-ever coverage of the opening ceremony, for a total of some 1.85 billion minutes, more than four times the 420 million from Sochi. NBC Sports Digital set a single-day Winter Games record with 176.3 million livestream minutes.

NBCU said the Pyeongchang Olympics provided an audience assist for other programming as well, notably "Today," which ranked as the top morning show for both weeks of the competition; "NBC Nightly News," which was the No. 1 evening news program over the course of the games; and NBC-owned stations and affiliates that registered a 56% ratings jump for late-local news and a 10% rise for early morning news.

NBCU, which paid the International Olympic Committee $963 million in rights for Pyeongchang, tallied a Winter Games-best $920 million in national ad sales as it finished in the black for the fourth consecutive time with the Olympics, according to Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports.

"These Winter Games are once again profitable for NBC Sports Group, and validate our investment in the Olympics," Lazarus said in a release. "At a time when there is more entertainment than ever for consumption, the Olympics offered an unmatched communal experience. We look forward to Tokyo and beyond."

NBCU holds U.S. multiplatform rights for the Olympics through the 2032 Summer Games, paying rights fees that increase over that time. Allocations for the more expansive Summer Games from Tokyo in 2020 hit $1.41 billion.