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Rio Olympics Struggle to Match London Games in Key European TV Markets

The time difference with Brazil has hurt TV-viewing levels for the Rio Olympics across Europe in comparison with the London Games in 2012, and migration to alternative digital platforms has also taken its toll. But interest remains strong in key countries and could increase as local heroes emerge at the Games. A look at key markets:


Ratings in Britain for the start of the Rio Olympics are down from the London Games in 2012 primarily because they aren’t in London. The lead-up to the last Summer Olympics generated so much anticipation locally that the bar was set impossibly high for the Rio Games to match.

The total linear TV audience on the BBC, which has exclusive British rights, for the first days of the Games (from the opening ceremony late Friday night until 2 a.m. Monday local time) was 24.6 million, compared with 39.2 million in 2012.

Also affecting viewership is the four-hour time difference between the U.K. and Brazil, which puts many of the events into the small hours of the morning in Britain. This included the first medal win for “Team GB,” a gold for swimmer Adam Peaty.

A third cause for the drop was the BBC’s increased emphasis on viewing on its digital platforms. The digital audience for the opening ceremony this year totaled 8.8 million, far more than the 6.3 million in 2012. The first day of competition drew 12.9 million digital viewers compared to 7.8 million in 2012, and the second day attracted 14.9 million versus 8.3 million in 2012.

Many of the events are being shown on the linear service hours after they take place, which occasionally backfires as viewers, thinking they are watching an event live, are disappointed to stumble on the results on Twitter.

The human-interest stories are catching the most attention. Peaty’s grandmother became an overnight (literally) media sensation in Britain thanks to her Twitter feed, and 18-year-old Syrian Yusra Mardini, who swam Saturday for the Olympics Refugee Team, also became an instant media star.

Peaty’s win fanned local interest in the Olympics, but so, too, did the social media debate sparked by the dress worn by one of the BBC presenters. For some on Twitter, Helen Skelton’s dress was too short, but others defended her choice of attire.
Leo Barraclough


The Olympics are traditionally France’s most-watched sports event, and this year air on both pubcaster France 2 and pay-TV operator Canal Plus. Ratings for the first weekend in Rio were lower than those for the London Games four years ago.

The opening ceremony Friday night drew 1.6 million people to France 2, for a 26% market share. Those numbers fell to 17.6% market share Saturday and 14.4% on Sunday. By comparison, the opening weekend of the London Games on France 2 scored 18% and 20.1% shares.

Meanwhile, Canal Plus notched 2.2% and 2.4% market share over the two days.
Elsa Keslassy


In Spain, the Olympics opening ceremony, broadcast by pubcaster RTVE’s core channel La 1, dominated TV ratings with a 19.4% audience share and 1.3 million viewers Friday night. But the results were far lower than the London Games, whose inaugural ceremony snagged a far stronger 46.1% share and 5.7 million eyeballs.

The question is to what extent the far lower viewership was a consequence of the time difference. The London Olympics started transmissions in the middle of Spanish TV primetime, whereas Rio’s opening ceremony began after midnight in Spain.

RTVE is reserving Rio’s top competitions for La 1, while its dedicated free-to-air sports channel, Teledeporte, is broadcasting 24-hour-a-day coverage of the Games. RTVE plans to offer 4,500 hours of live sportscast, on up to 19 live TV signals simultaneously and on its Internet service rtve.es and a dedicated app.

On Sunday, the major attraction was the debut in Rio of Spanish tennis players Rafael Nadal and Garbiñe Muguruza, and Spain’s basketball team. With TV slot Conexion Rio, La 1 won the primetime battle, with a 14.7% share and 1.3 million viewers. In late-night, the defeat against Croatia of the Spanish basketball team led by NBA star Pau Gasol topped the charts, earning a 21.6% share and 1.7 million viewers for La 1.

Five Teledeporte transmissions led the list of most-watched TV programs among Spain’s niche free-to-air TV channels on Sunday.
Emiliano de Pablos


The Olympics have drawn top ratings in Germany, where they are airing on pubcasters ARD and ZDF. According to Quotenmeter, the Games proved the most-watched program on ARD on Saturday evening: 4.23 million viewers tuned in for the cycling competitions, 4.34 million for swimming, 4.4 million for gymnastics and 4.71 million for rowing. On average, the Games drew an average of 3.74 million viewers and a strong 17.3% share among all viewers and 17.6% among the key 14-to-49 demographic.

On Sunday, audiences dropped slightly for ZDF, with the Olympics beaten by ARD’s hit crime drama “Tatort,” which drew 4.81 million viewers and a 17.2% share among all viewers. By comparison, 3.88 million tuned in to ZDF for Olympic swimming, followed by 4.2 million for cycling. More than 5 million viewers watched Germany’s 3-3 match against South Korea in men’s soccer, resulting in a 19.2% share among all viewers and 17.1% among 14-to-49-year-olds.

A fire scare near ZDF’s Rio studio forced the network’s Olympic broadcast off the air early Monday, Quotenmeter reported. The pubcaster was about to show German table-tennis star Timo Boll in action around 1:30 a.m. when correspondent Katrin Müller-Hohenstein announced that the crew had to evacuate the studio after a fire alarm went off. ZDF replaced the Olympics with an episode of the hit British mystery series “Midsomer Murders,” but went back to Olympic coverage about 15 minutes later when the ZDF crew returned safely to the Rio studio.

Despite the time difference, this year’s viewing figures are not so different compared with the 2012 London Games. Primetime ratings in 2012 ranged between 3.64 million and 4.6 million during the first weekend, resulting in shares of 16.4% and 17.7%, respectively. The first Monday (July 30) saw 5.58 million viewers tune in for swimming and hockey (including a German team match), resulting in a 22.5% share.
Ed Meza


The Olympics appear to be faring well in Italy, where the opening ceremony scored a nearly 40% audience share, albeit at 2 a.m. local time. The figure dropped to 22% on Saturday during primetime, but shot back up to 33% in primetime Sunday as Italian athletes scored five medals, including golds in judo and foil fencing.

The early audience numbers, provided by state broadcaster Rai, appear to be roughly on par with those for the 2012 London Olympics.

The Games are being aired exclusively on Rai, which is making the most of the fact that it gained Olympic rights back exclusively after having had to share them with pay-TV outlet Sky for the past eight years.

Rai has added the slogan “sports are for everyone” under the Rio 2016 logo, and is providing coverage of unprecedented scope for Italy, beaming the Games on three channels: on generalist station Rai-2, plus dedicated sports outlets Rai Sport 1 and Rai Sport 2.

Rai has also launched 36 dedicated online Olympic TV channels providing the Games live or through a catch-up on-demand service, plus an app to view them via smartphone and tablet. Like other broadcasters around the world, they are also offering Italian audiences a virtual-reality viewing experience.

Rai has not yet issued numbers on its online and mobile Olympic audience.
Nick Vivarelli

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