TOKYO (REUTERS) - New events such as surfing and skateboarding that made their debut at the Tokyo Olympics boosted the Games' viewership, particularly in Brazil, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Tuesday (Aug 3), playing down any impact from the lack of spectators.
The bullish projections presented by the sports body on Tuesday contrasted with early ratings data, which indicated the Tokyo Games are currently the least watched Olympics in recent history across Europe and the United States.
In the United States, the single most important market for the Olympic Games where NBCUniversal is airing the events, the opening ceremony drew 16.9 million US TV viewers, the smallest audience for the event in the past 33 years.
Timo Lumme, the managing director of television and marketing services at the IOC, said audiences were coming to watch the Games in their "millions" in the United States, with a prime time average for Olympic programmes of around 17 million American viewers each night.
Lumme said he expected to see that slightly more people watched Tokyo's opening ceremony than Rio's in 2016, with total TV viewership expected to climb to around 600 million.
In China, huge numbers of viewers tuned in to see the 100m men's race and the finals of the table tennis singles event, he said, while surfing and skateboarding made up five of the top 10 most viewed Olympic programmes in Brazil during the first week of the Games.
Despite some bounce from new sports, viewership has also declined across Europe.
Britain's publicly owned broadcaster, the BBC, says it had a peak live audience of 2.3 million, and 944,000 online streams, for the opening ceremony, a 39.4 per cent decline from the BBC's peak live audience for the Rio opening ceremony, and a 61 per cent decline from the BBC's peak live audience for the 2008 Beijing opener.
Discovery Inc, which owns the European rights to the Games, said on Tuesday more than 275 million viewers have so far watched the Games through its platforms, with over 100 million of them through Discovery's coverage on TV and digital, and an additional 175 million through its sublicenced broadcasters.
In an email, the company said this represented 10 per cent more reach than the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games.
Responding to reporters' questions on Tuesday about the fallout from having no fans in the stands due to Covid-19 restrictions, Lumme said the lack of spectators in the Olympic stands due to Covid-19 restrictions had "no effect" on the Games' viewership or engagement.
In Japan, where more than half of the public were opposed to holding the Games in the run-up to the event, viewership numbers remained robust, Mr Lumme said, with 113.5 million Japanese watching some coverage of the Games as at Sunday.