US Olympic Viewership Plunges 42% From Last Games, Australia Soars 67% - Stab Mag

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It was minutes to midnight on the US east coast when Kolohe beat JJF. Photo by Sean Evans/ISA

US Olympic Viewership Plunges 42% From Last Games, Australia Soars 67%

It might have something to do with circadian rhythms.

elsewhere // Aug 11, 2021
Words by Ethan Davis
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Olympics is well and truly over. For many Australians, it’s ending coincided with an indefinite lockdown, which is unfortunate because watching pole vaulting and badminton is a truly novel guilty pleasure that chews up time when days are slow and uneventful. 

In Australia, the Olympic rights were bought by the Channel 7 news network who did a really good job of the coverage. It was free to watch on cable as well as on online-streaming platform, 7Mate. The commentary was good, the user interface friendly, and people generally seemed well-informed of the scheduling for their favourite events.

Seven’s figures show 19.95 million people had tuned in since the start of the Games (there’s only 25M Australians). In the first 14 days, the average full-day broadcast audience was up 67% nationally, and 76% in the capital cities, compared to the Rio Games in 2016.

The same cannot be said of elsewhere in the world. 

In France, Eurosport didn’t pay for surf commentators, leaving only the ambient sound of uncensored bystanders, horns, waves and muffled beach announcements. And in the US, NBC decided to spread the streaming across three different platforms:, the NBC Sports app and the paywall streaming service Peacock.

According to National Public Radio (NPR) 

Viewers streamed a record 5.5 billion minutes of events across social media and online platforms such as, the NBC Sports app and the streaming service Peacock. Those figures make the Tokyo Games the most-streamed Olympics ever, giving Peacock its best two weeks of use since it debuted in April 2020.

But there’s also bad news. The average primetime viewership each night across all of its platforms — online, cable and network — was just 15.5 million people, down from an average 26.7 million viewers for the Rio Games in 2016. That’s a 42% plunge. Similarly, just 150 million Americans watched the Games, compared with 198 million who saw the events in Rio. It was the lowest average primetime viewership for the Games on NBC, which began broadcasting the Summer Olympics in 1988.

Theories as to why the US saw such drastic losses in viewership have attributed it to the Peacock paywall, poor scheduling, excessive advertising, overly politically-correct sob stories for athletes and the fact that they displayed the highlights and results ahead of recapping the events as they actually unfolded. 

But a more obvious and uncontrollable factor likely underlies the opposing vectors of viewership figures between the US and Australia. 


Australia’s timezone (EST) is one hour behind Japan’s (JST), nicely aligned with Australian’s circadian rhythms. By contrast, the US’s (EDT) and Japan’s (JST) were 13 hours apart. 

Badminton by day is easier than badminton by night, and the swish of the shuttlecock might’ve just served the perfect lullaby to close the eyelids of Americans before their favourite events.

Australians were wide-awake for Owen’s Olympic bronze. Photo Sean Evan/ISA.


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