NBC sees even weaker ratings as Olympics near end

Iconic Olympics ads through the years
Iconic Olympics ads through the years

NBC isn't exactly racing across the finish line in Rio.

The network's Summer Olympics ratings have been particularly weak in the final few days of competition.

Saturday, which featured track and field events and Matt Lauer's interview with Ryan Lochte, was the lowest-rated night of the games yet.

Related: Ryan Lochte's apology tour: Two interviews, two languages

The closing ceremony will take place on Sunday night.

When it comes to the Olympics, of course, everything is relative. The NBC broadcast network's ratings are always laps ahead of its rivals during the games. The Olympics are still clearly must-see TV for a wide swath of the United States.

But NBC's ratings have underperformed the 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012 games among the 18- to 49-year-old viewers that advertisers pay a premium to reach.

NBC had a 3.5 rating in the 18-to-49 demo on Saturday, far lower than the 6.2 rating the same night of the London games had in 2012.

There has been a big uptick in Olympics live-streaming this year, but streaming still accounts for a very small amount of overall viewing of the games. The vast majority of viewership has been happening via old-fashioned TV.

So NBC is compensating advertisers with "make goods," an industry term for free ads that compensate for lower-than-promised ratings.

According to Ad Age, the network "is underachieving by nearly 2 whole ratings points, or 10%." Still, the publication noted that the games have "generated a staggering amount of ad revenue."

Related: Does NBC's Olympics coverage really deserve the criticism it's gotten?

The London-to-Rio declines have been most dramatic among younger demographics. But the comparisons have been unfavorable among total viewers as well, partly because the London ratings were so high.

By NBC's measurements, Rio had the "second-highest average audience on record for the primetime competition coverage for any non-domestic Summer Games."

In other words, excluding Atlanta, Rio was #2 to London during prime time coverage.

But NBC's calculations were based on what it calls "Total Audience Delivery," a combination of broadcast, cable and live-streaming viewership.

The Beijing Olympics in 2008 had 27.2 million viewers just watching the broadcast network in prime time. London had 30.3 million. Rio, so far, has had an average of 27.5 million watching during prime time via the broadcast network, the web, and NBC's cable channels.

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