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Volume 24 No. 114
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NBC Sees Lowest First Saturday Winter Games Audience In Years

Despite Gerard's win, NBC Sports' total audience delivery in primetime was the lowest since '06
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

NBC on Saturday averaged 21.4 million viewers for its primetime coverage of the Pyeongchang Games, which featured snowboarder Red Gerard winning the first Gold Medal for the U.S. Saturday primetime coverage also featured ice dancing and the women's short program for figure skating. When combined with cable and streaming, NBC Sports' total audience delivery in primetime on Saturday averaged 24.2 million viewers, which is still the lowest audience for the first Saturday of a Winter Games since the '06 Turin Games (23.2 million viewers). The addition of cable and digital to the NBC broadcast figure equated to a 13% increase in audience. NBC and NBCSN alone averaged 23.9 million viewers on Saturday night, with coverage peaking at 25.7 million viewers from 9:45-10:00pm ET. Salt Lake City was the top market in primetime on Saturday for the third night in a row (24.5 local rating) as it seeks to take its throne back from Minneapolis-St. Paul, which led the '14 Sochi Games in primetime. Meanwhile, NBCSN on Saturday (2:00-5:00pm) had its best afternoon audience on record, averaging 4.5 million viewers for coverage featuring women's biathlon, mixed doubles curling and speed skating. NBC Sports Digital also set a single-day Winter Games record on Saturday with an average minute audience of 234,000 viewers streaming in primetime (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).

ADAM RAISED A CAIN: In San Jose, Chuck Barney notes some viewers "became angered" last night when NBC's Mike Tirico "ended a lively and entertaining interview with American figure skater Adam Rippon by raising the subject of his sexuality and his conflict with Vice President Mike Pence." Rippon, who is openly gay, has "criticized Pence for his opposition to gay rights and long-rumored support of conversion therapy." But Barney writes the critics on social media "had it wrong." The rift with Pence has "been in the news and therefore is fair game." Tirico’s interview with Rippon is "one of the early highlights of NBC’s coverage." They had an "easygoing rapport ... and Rippon was consistently charismatic and humorous as their conversation touched upon various subjects." Tirico has done a "commendable job in his first stint as NBC’s prime-time Olympics host." Tirico has "come across as relaxed, personable, highly prepared and informative" (San Jose MERCURY NEWS, 2/12). SLATE's Justin Peters writes Rippon has "given TV viewers a reason to watch a post-event interview," as his "ease on camera was evident throughout the interview." Peters: "NBC knows what it wants out of Adam Rippon. The network wants him to say sassy things and be America's wacky, lovable figure skating best friend for the next two weeks. ... Rippon, for his part, is happy to oblige" (SLATE.com, 2/12). SB Nation's Cyd Zeigler tweeted, "Thank you Mike Tirico for acknowledging Adam Rippon as an out gay athlete in primetime on @NBC!!!! That is the importance of @Adaripp and other athletes being out." But ESPNW.com's Katie Barnes posted, "Did anyone else interpret that Tirico question as 'How do you not let your gayness distract you?' Legitimately trying to figure out what he was asking."

MIKE CHECK: In L.A., Tom Hoffarth writes Tirico "checks off many boxes in how a network would want to stay as current and wide-appealing as possible." His "sense and sensibilities have already been vetted through recent major event coverage." NBC execs "have nothing to worry about" with Tirico despite the fact he "doesn’t quite have the resume" of predecessor Bob Costas. This is a "moment in Sports TV History when you can actually see a torch as it’s more-than-metaphorically being passed" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 2/11). Tirico said of Costas, "I’m not replacing him; I’m following him. I think trying to be Bob would be stupid. And that was one of his bits of advice: Be yourself. So I’m going to try to do that." He added of comparisons to Costas, "You’re human -- of course comparisons matter. But it’s not going to affect what I do or how I do it" (WASHINGTON POST, 2/10). CNBC's Jane Wells tweeted, "One thing I like about Mike Tirico is that it’s never about him. Never. That’s a rare thing these days. ... I’m liking the Tirico-Couric team." Rams reporter Myles Simmons: "Tirico is so dang good. I think he could host or do play-by-play for the white pages and I’d still be engaged."

SEEING RED: In DC, Jacob Bogage noted a tape delay "spoiled the excitement for viewers watching NBC's prime-time broadcast" Saturday night of Red Gerard's win in the snowboard slopestyle, the "most climactic moment for its U.S. audience" to that point. NBC did not air Gerard's run "until about a half-hour" after it took place. Even with the delay, NBC "didn’t bleep some profanity Gerard let slip while celebrating" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 2/10). The AP's David Bauder wrote NBC did "superb camera work" during Gerard's run, "both of his high-flying moves and depicting the tension of waiting to see whether his score would hold up." But there were a "couple audible F-bombs during the celebration" (AP, 2/11). Pittsburgh-based KDKA-FM's Josh Rowntree tweeted, "So NBC tape delays snowboarding final and then has Tirico apologize for a kid dropping a f-bomb. Was no one able to find the censor button for 30 minutes or...?"

GOING GLOBAL: Bauder wrote with competition "ramping up and the United States still hunting for medals, NBC did a nice job Saturday afternoon focusing on some stars and sports more popular elsewhere in the world." Most notable were South Korean "triumphs in speedskating and the German stars Felix Loch in luge and biathlete Lauren Dahlmeier" (AP, 2/10).

WHO IS WATCHING? NBC’s Chuck Todd said new data from Gallup shows that "only about a third of younger Americans are planning to watch a great deal or a fair amount of the Olympics this year." That number "jumps to double digits when we look at middle-aged to older Americans, and more than half of 65 or older do plan to watch a decent amount of the Winter Games." There is a "divide by gender, even among older Americans" -- 43% of men 50+ are "planning to tune in regularly, while a majority of women in the same age group say they'll be frequent viewers" (“Meet the Press,” NBC, 2/11).