Winter Olympics: Sochi Opening Ceremony Averages 31.7 Million Viewers

The Olympic flame was ignited in Sochi, Russia on Friday and NBC sparked the most-watched Opening Ceremony for a non-live Winter Games since Lillehammer, Norway in 1994.

NBC posted a 17.0 rating/28 share with its coverage -- which included the failed conversion of a snowflake into a fifth Olympic ring --  from 8 p.m. to 11:08 p.m. (ET/PT), translating into 31.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen live + same-day data. That marked a 43% rise from the 22.2 million viewers for the Opening Ceremony in Torino, Italy and a 33% jump from the 2006 Games’ 12.8/21.

Gauged against NBC’s live presentation (ET/CT) of the 2010 Vancouver Opening Ceremony, Friday night’s telecast was off 2% from a 17.3/30 and 3% from the 32.7 million audience four years ago.

NBC scored an 8.7 rating against adults 18 to 49, which network officials said was the most dominant primetime Winter Olympics victory on record with the demo and 235% above the combined ABC/CBS/Fox mark, based on people meter data, dating to 1987.   

Unlike the rest of Sochi quadrennium spanning 15 sports and 98 events, NBCOlympics didn’t live-stream the Opening Ceremony in its entirety, opting instead to have its commentators provide cultural references and context during its primetime telecast of the ornate show.

“Like Team USA, we’re off to a great start, and we’re gratified that the American audience tuned in in such large numbers for the tremendous Opening Ceremony from Sochi,” said NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus. “It’s an early sign that our strategy of emphasizing primetime viewing is working, and we’re excited for the competition over the next two weeks.”

With the unofficial start to the Sochi Games on Feb. 6, NBC's "bonus" presentation of three new Winter Games competitions – men’s and women’s slopestyle snowboarding, team figure skating and women’s freestyle moguls  -- averaged an 11.3 household rating and 18 share and 20 million viewers from 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.