Winter Olympics: NBCU Registers Record 242.3M Impressions from Sochi

The final tallies are in from Sochi: The U.S. garnered 28 total medals, second to Russia’s 33, while NBCUniversal’s unprecedented coverage set a record for Winter Games impressions across all platforms.

NBC’s curated primetime presentations dominated the rest of the broadcast business over the 18 nights from Sochi, while NBCSN set record ratings marks across its daytime coverage.

Conversely, the primetime coverage trailed off in the second week, often falling behind its averages from the 2006 Torino Games, the median viewing age increased, and Sochi lagged past Winter Olympics on a linear cume basis.

All told, NBCU’s record 1,500-plus hours of multiplatform coverage on NBC, cable networks NBCSN, CNBC, MSNBC and USA, NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra and NBC Olympics Highlights and Results apps generated 242.3 million media exposures across those platforms, 3.5 million more than the 2010 Vancouver Games that were televised largely live and rank as the second-most-watched Winter Olympics ever, relative to TV cume viewership.

“The Olympics continue to be a must-see property on television. However, as we saw beginning with the 2012 London Games, Americans have clearly expanded their viewing patterns,” said NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus. “In addition to the tremendous audiences that tuned in to our curated primetime coverage on NBC, we set records on a near-daily basis for live coverage on our digital platforms and our cable networks, particularly NBCSN, which regularly achieved ratings and viewership milestones. The Sochi Winter Games took place in the largest country in the world with the most events ever, and we are pleased that Americans overwhelmingly chose to bring us into their living rooms – and onto their laptops, tablets and mobile devices – for what was an exhilarating and gratifying 18 days.”

Overall, NBC's primetime presentations averaged 21.4 million watchers for the Sochi Games from the opening ceremony on Feb. 7 through Sunday’s closing ceremony, up 6% from the 20.2 million for Torino; NBC’s 12.3/20 from Sochi primetime nipped the 2006 Games' 12.2/19. Sochi was 12% behind NBC’s primetime coverage of the live (ET/CT) Vancouver Olympics that averaged 24.4 million viewers, and 11% short of its 13.8 household rating/23 share in 2010.

Despite the decreases versus Vancouver, NBC produced the most dominant primetime Winter Olympics performance on record by a broadcast network in viewership, household rating, and among Madison Avenue’s preferred 18-to-49 set, with a 5.5 mark (based on People Meter, dating to 1987). Gauged against the combined primetime totals of ABC, CBS and Fox, NBC’s Sochi fare outpointed the trio by 45% in viewers, 32% in rating and 51% in the demo. The Games stood as the top-rated program on all 18 nights (including the bonus coverage on Feb. 7), versus 14 of 17 from Vancouver and eight of 17 from Torino, reflective in large part of the prior dominance of Fox’s American Idol.

Still, NBC’s primetime pace slowed considerably during Sochi’s second half.  NBC averaged 23.5 million viewers and a 13.2 household rating/21 share over nine nights from the Opening Ceremony through Saturday, Feb. 16, up 14% and 8%, respectively, from 20.6 million watchers and 12.2/20 from the corresponding span in Torino, the last Winter Olympics hosted in Europe.  However, those numbers didn’t measure up as well during the final eight nights. Indeed after eclipsing Torino on each of the first eight nights from Sochi, NBC’s primetime package only wound up topping the 2006 averages on 12 of the 17 nights from Russia (the Feb. 6 bonus night didn’t have a comparative).

Moreover, with the median age of viewers increasing to 55, NBC’s 18-to-49 count slipped from a 6.1 demo rating from Torino.

For its part, NBCSN scored Nielsen gold on the cable side. Over each of its 16 days of live coverage from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., NBCSN out-delivered the corresponding day from the London Games in 2012, the network's first Olympic telecasts. NBCSN averaged 1.6 million viewers for the Sochi Games in the time slot, a 134% jump from the 692,000 from London. 

Moreover, the 10 best weekday daytime audiences in NBCSN’s history came courtesy of its Sochi coverage and the network’s five highest viewership totals for weekend daytimes also emanated during the just-completed Games.

Highlights included the 2.7/8 for the U.S.-Canada men’s hockey semifinal on Feb. 21, which now stands as the highest-rated hockey game in the network’s history, including Stanley Cup Playoffs and Stanley Cup Finals action.

NBCSN averaged 4.1 million viewers for the thrilling Feb. 15 U.S.-Russia Olympic men’s contest, setting a record as the most-watched hockey game in the network’s history, beating the 4 million for the Chicago Blackhawks-Boston Bruins in Game 3 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals.

According to cume data provided by Nielsen, more than 76% of U.S. television homes tuned in to some portion of the Sochi Games, reaching 178 million American viewers. Among the most-watched Winter Games, 2014's cume ranked behind Lillehammer’s 204 million in 1994, Vancouver’s 190 million in 2010, Salt Lake City’s 187 million in 2002, and the 184 million apiece for Torino in 2006, Albertville in 1992 and Nagano in 1998.

Digitially, NBC Sports Group amassed nearly 61.8 million unique users, 29% more than Vancouver, a record for a Winter Olympics, according to Adobe Analytics. Sochi stimulated a Winter Olympics-record 10.8 million hours of video across NBC Olympics’ digital platforms, more than triple the 3.5 million hours of video streamed during the Vancouver quadrennium.

“TV Everywhere” played an important role during the Sochi Games, with verification rates being significantly higher than London in 2010, according to NBCU officials. Approximately 80% of the video was viewed via authenticated live streams on and the NBC Sports Live Extra app. NBC Olympics’ exclusive highlights comprised the remaining video viewed.

The Feb. 21 U.S.-Canada men’s hockey game generated more than 2.12 million unique viewers – exceeding the non-authenticated tally for Super Bowl XLVI and a total that is believed to be the largest “TV Everywhere” verified streaming audience in U.S. history.