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Sochi Olympics: Should the ratings be higher?

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Henrik Harlaut
Getty Images

It’s been a week since NBC started covering the Winter Olympics from Sochi, and so far ratings have settled into a predictable groove: Large respectable numbers, yet a tad less than Vancouver four years ago.

Through Thursday night, the competition is averaging 24.3 million viewers (down 9 percent) and a 6.6 rating in the demo (down 12 percent). Thursday night was no exception, down 9 percent in total viewers.

Big sporting events gone have often gone against the broadcast ratings downtrend and keep setting new record highs (like the Super Bowl). So why isn’t Sochi more popular than Vancouver? Almost certainly the biggest factor is Vancouver coverage was mostly live in prime-time whereas Sochi coverage is 100 percent tape delayed. Compared to the last Europe-hosted Winter Games, Torino in 2006, NBC’s Sochi coverage is actually up.

Plus, the U.S. team hasn’t matched its performance in Vancouver. By the first Wednesday in Vancouver, the American team had won gold medals for skier Lindsey Vonn, snowboarder Shaun White and speed-skater Shani Davis, among other medals. The one really notable spike so far over Vancouver was Wednesday when White made his (failed) attempt to win a medal in the halfpipe.

Still, with the winter storms keeping much of American at home and rival networks weaker than ever by comparison, a ratings boost wouldn’t have seemed unreasonable either. So far, NBC’s Sochi coverage is beating rivals by an unprecedented margin. Here’s the Thursday chart:

FOX 8-9P AM IDOL 2.9 9,875
9-10P RAKE- 1.1 4,041
ABC 8-10P TASTE- 0.9 3,040
10-11P SCANDAL- R 0.7 2,260
CBS 8:00P BIG BANG- R 2.8 11,774
8:30P MILLERS- R 1.8 7,527
9:00P CRAZY ONES- R 1.2 5,074
9:30P TWO&HLF MN- R 1.3 5,493
10-11P ELEMENTARY- R 1.2 6,136
NBC 8-11P OLYMPICS S 5.9 22,888
CW 8-9P ORIGINALS- RS 0.3 1,059
9-10P ARROW- RS 0.3 1,052