Last week we sifted some tea leaves in an effort to gauge the size of NBC’s television audience for the Paralympics. The numbers are now in, and they’re well worth celebrating.
The US audience for the 2020 Paralympics vastly outnumbered those of all previous Games. Total viewership exceeded 14 million people, an increase of 81 percent over the Rio Paralympics five years ago. The Tokyo Games also produced the two most-watched Paralympic telecasts in US history, with the August 29 prime-time show on NBC drawing 2.1 million viewers (nearly doubling the previous high) and the September 5 broadcast registering 1.5 million viewers.
The weeknight audiences on NBC Sports Network also saw a nice bump, averaging about 180,000 viewers a night. That’s a 27 percent increase over 2016—not a revolutionary spike, but a decided step in the right direction. As we noted last week, these gains were achieved despite declining viewership for other sports (including the Olympics) and a competitive news cycle. And as we learned from NBC Olympics executive Gary Zenkel back in May, NBC is playing the long game here. “LA will be hosting the Paralympics in 2028, and that is the moment that we are building toward,” Zenkel told us. “For the event, for the sports, and for these athletes, that will be the watershed moment, and I really look forward to it.”
In short: Take the 2020 audience figures as an intermediate point on the graph, rather than as a conclusive statement about the Paralympics’ audience potential. We’ll get another data point in six months with the Winter Paralympics, and another two years hence. Definitely stay tuned.