Sports

Chinese viewers flock to Olympics even as the world tunes out


Buoyed by the success of stars like Eileen Gu and Su Yiming, Chinese viewers are flocking to the Beijing Winter Olympics in huge numbers — even as the rest of the world tunes out.

Almost 600 million people, or around half the Chinese population, have viewed the Winter Olympics on television, with the opening ceremony becoming the most watched TV program in a decade, Timo Lumme, managing director of the International Olympic Committee’s Television and Marketing Services, said Wednesday at a briefing in Beijing.

Given China’s sheer size, the national audience for the games could rival the total global audience of the 2018 games in Pyeongchang, he said.

That will offer no consolation to NBC, which is looking at what will likely be the least-watched Olympics in the event’s history. Viewership numbers were nearly half of what they were four years ago at the games’ halfway point, and the U.S. broadcaster has had to cut ad rates in anticipation of about 40% fewer viewers than the 2018 Games.

There are many reasons why the Olympics ratings are down in the West. There’s the general decline in TV viewing, the time difference between Beijing and the U.S. East Coast, a controversy over the host country’s human rights record, and potential viewer fatigue with a second Olympics just months after the summer games in Tokyo.

With Chinese fans largely shut out from attending the Winter Games, they have resorted to watching the events on state broadcaster China Central Television and the internet.

China’s Lunar New Year holiday also overlapped with the start of the games, enabling families to stay home and watch athletes such as Gu and Su take home gold medals for the host nation. China has already won six golds, more than in any previous Winter Olympics.

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