How Rio Olympics Ratings Could Beat London’s Gold Standard

You can’t get Zika through a TV!

Last Updated: August 5, 2016 @ 3:30 PM

NBC didn’t win the traditional fall TV season, but the broadcaster knows it’ll comfortably claim the 52-week one. How’s that possible? Simple. Two words, five rings: Rio Olympics.

Before we look ahead, let’s look back a bit. Over the full 17 nights of the 2012 London Olympics, NBC’s primetime coverage averaged a whopping 31.1 million viewers, making it the most-watched non-U.S. Summer Olympics since the 1976 Montreal Games. London had jumped 12 percent over the 2008 Beijing version and 26 percent above Athens in 2004.

Nine evenings of the London Olympics drew north of 30 million viewers, topping the combined total from the prior two Summer Olympics. All told, 219.4 million Americans watched those 2012 games across NBCUniversal nets, beating Beijing’s 215 million. That made it the most-watched event in U.S. television history, per Nielsen.

Over the next few weeks, NBC’s competition simply shouldn’t even try to show up, really. The London Olympics’ primetime viewership average topped the combined ABC, CBS and Fox competition by 232 percent. That’s quite a distant silver medal.

The Rio Olympics coverage has a few advantages over its predecessor: The Brazilian country’s time zone is even better here for live events, and the trainwreck factor has never been higher. Beyond Zika virus fears, body parts have recently washed up on a beach volleyball shore, and an economic emergency was just declared. Plus, there’s the area’s general violence, and one Paralympian has already been robbed at gunpoint.

Yay, Olympics.

Ultimately, NBC setting new records (off the field of play) may come down to the performance of the U.S. athletes, along with any other fortuitous drama (not including Bob Costas’ eye health).

The Rio opening ceremony kicks off on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Here’s what it will strive to lap: London’s kickoff averaged 40.7 million total viewers, the most ever, regardless of country (Atlanta 1996 is second with 39.8 million).

Whether tomorrow eclipses that impressive tally or not, there’s plenty of good news already being bandied about the NBCU boardroom: Steve Burke has already promised that the Rio Olympics will make “a lot more” money for his company than the $120 million London hauled in.

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