Why did the Rio 2016 Olympics opening ceremony have such low ratings?

Angus Kidman 8 August 2016 NEWS


1.61 million Australians tuned in on Saturday morning to see the games start.

By current Australian TV rating standards, 1.61 million viewers is a big deal and a ratings success. But by Olympic opening ceremony standards, it's a bit anaemic.

Opening ceremony ratings have been in a steady decline since the high water mark of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, as you can see on the chart below:

It's understandable that the 2000 Olympics had such enormous ratings (6.5 million viewers). The combination of hometown pride and the fact the ceremony was in prime time means we can confidently predict that the ratings for that ceremony are unlikely ever to be beaten, by any show whatsoever.

Since then, it's been mostly downhill. Beijing had a slight increase on Athens, which again we can attribute to time zones, but other than that we've been seeing the figures continually drop. Rio's time zone difference doesn't help either. It's also worth remembering that if you watch the Olympics via one of the many streaming options Seven is offering, that doesn't count in the official TV ratings either.

This decline isn't exclusive to the Olympics, though. Back in 2000, we had just five free-to-air channels (six if you count community TV), and online streaming was essentially non-existent. Now we can choose between 23 free-to-air channels (not counting the HD simulcasts), even before Netflix and Stan and Presto and YouTube come into the mix.

The inevitable result is that TV events simply don't get the numbers they used to. The first season finale of Masterchef Australia back in 2009 had 3.7 million viewers. This year's finale had 2.1 million.

In some contexts, ratings are already irrelevant. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime don't issue ratings figures, so we'll probably never know how many people are watching The Grand Tour or Wolf Creek.

We will know how many viewers tune in for the 2020 Olympics opening ceremony in Tokyo. While a friendlier time zone might help, I'd be surprised if it tops two million on current trends.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears Monday through Friday on finder.com.au.

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