NBC said its Olympic audience reached parity with the London Games for the first time on the third night of competition. But there's an asterisk involved in the claim.
The network said that its "total audience delivery'' was 31.5 million for the Olympics on Monday night in prime time, compared to the virtually identical 31.6 million who watched on the corresponding night in London in 2012.
The "total audience delivery'' figure is a statistic NBC hurriedly invented when it saw sharp declines in its traditional ratings for the first couple of nights of the Rio de Janeiro Games. The Nielsen company said the television audience on NBC on Monday was 28.9 million — strong, but short of London levels.
But NBC is adding the viewership for prime-time telecasts on cable's NBCSN (1.6 million) and Bravo (720,000) and people who streamed video online (about 300,000) to boost the number to 31.5 million — its "total audience delivery.''
NBC says the comparison is valid because even though the cable viewers weren't watching the same thing as people tuned in to NBC, they were still watching the Olympics. There's no comparable number from 2012, because the company didn't allow its cable affiliates and website to compete with the prime-time NBC telecast four years ago.
"One of the indicators of changing viewer habits, especially with these Olympics, is that our digital consumption has more than tripled from London in each of the first three days of full competition,'' NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus said. "We've also been pleasantly surprised that our multi-platform strategy is paying big dividends.''
The new calculation is about more than bragging rights. NBC will use "total audience delivery'' to convince advertisers that they're reaching more viewers than the traditional Nielsen figures indicate.