Who Watched the Olympic Athletes?

According to The Nielsen Company, the TV audience for the Winter Olympics is predominantly female, unlike the male-favored Super Bowl. Through February 21, an estimated 56% of Olympic viewers are female, while 44% are male. Super Bowl viewership earlier this month was almost the exact opposite, with its audience composed of 54% males and 46% females.

Olympics ratings are clearly highest among older viewers, finds the study. Ratings among teenagers are 57% lower than the national average for this year's primetime Olympics broadcasts.

  • Ratings among the 18-49 group are 20% lower than the national average
  • Ratings among those 55 and older are 82% higher

Some additional ratings include ethnicity, geography, and equipment:

  • Ratings among Hispanic and African-American viewers are each 74% below the national average
  • Asian ratings are 15% below the national average
  • Ratings in the West Central region of the United States area are 24% higher than the national average
  • Viewership in the Southwest is 28% lower than the national average
  • 55% of Olympic viewers are in HD-capable/receivable homes. Viewing in these homes is 14% higher than the national average
  • 41% of Olympic viewers are in DVR homes and have ratings 12% higher than the national average

To lend context to these demographic insights, Nielsen compared U.S. viewership trends from the Olympics to trends from the Super Bowl played earlier this month.

Ratings among female Olympics viewers are 9% higher than the national average, says the report, while ratings among male Olympics viewers are 9% lower.  In contrast, female ratings were 11% lower than the Super Bowl's national average, while male ratings were 11% higher.

Much like the Olympics, ratings for the Super Bowl were highest among older viewers. Ratings among teenagers for the Super Bowl were 20% lower than the national average (compared to the 57% lower ratings for the Olympics). Ratings for the Super Bowl improve in older demographics, where the ratings are 6% higher than the national average in the 18-49 age group and 15% higher among those 55 and up.

Age Group Viewership Index (vs. Total Average Viewership)



Age Group

2010 Olympics

Super Bowl XLIV










Source: The Nielsen Company, February 2009

The comparison also found that a larger percentage of Super Bowl viewers were African-American, Hispanic, or Asian (23% compared to 11% for the Olympics). Ratings within the African-American and Hispanic markets were also higher in the Super Bowl when compared to the national average for each event. Ratings for African-American viewers were 18% lower than the national average for the Super Bowl while Hispanic ratings for the game were 49% lower. Asian ratings for both events were almost identical (16% below average for the Super Bowl vs. 15% below average for the Olympics).

Broken down by individual event, freestyle skiing, which includes men's and women's moguls competition, was the most popular Olympic sport among US TV weekend viewers through February 15, according to a minute-by-minute analysis of viewing conducted by Nielsen.

As reported by MarketingCharts, during NBC's primetime broadcast coverage, an average of 26.9 million viewers watched the freestyle events in the first weekend of Olympic competition:

  • Downhill skiing was the second most popular sport, with an average of 26.7 million viewers watching coverage of the event
  • Luge coverage earned an average of 26.2 million viewers

However, Nielsen analysis of Internet buzz from February 9-18, 2010 shows that hockey is the most discussed Olympic sport online. Among all online messages related to winter Olympic sports, more than 30% were linked to hockey. Luge generated the second highest amount of buzz over that time, with almost 18%, followed by figure skating with 10% of Olympics sports buzz.

Additional information from Nielsen may be found here.



4 comments about "Who Watched the Olympic Athletes?".
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  1. Greta Weiner from, March 9, 2010 at 9:53 a.m.

    I find it odd that you compare a two week event to one night of football, even though it's the biggest night of football. To me the Olympics vs the Superbowl is apples and oranges.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 9, 2010 at 9:56 a.m.

    Higher viewership with PST than EST? DuuuH? 3 hour delay. What also does not seem to be factored in is that the Superbowl is an OTO 3-4 hour event; the Olympics stagger over 2 weeks. By the second week, with much of the coverage less than interesting, many people occupied themselves with other activities. The younger the viewer, the more ants in their pants and they have things to do. Really, how many people who read and contribute to MediaPost could have estimated pretty close to the above numbers without paying Nielsen.

  3. Brian LoCicero from Kantar, March 9, 2010 at 10:07 a.m.

    Agree with both previous comments. What I would be more interested in is what the 12-49's were watching/doing INSTEAD of the Olympics. Media consumption is no longer a single track in someone's day.

    I also saw many complaints on Facebook and Twitter that viewers couldn't find certain events they WANTED to see so the fragmentation across the various NBC properties could have also come into play although Nielsen captured all of that.

  4. Kevin Hanft from Marketing Leverage LLC, March 10, 2010 at 11:58 a.m.

    I found the high index of 55+ audience interesting & a bit concerning. It would nice to have some added data; ie. HHI; cable vs. broadcast; use of internet to get Olympic coverage, etc.

    Is the 55+ a group that grew up on ABC's "Up Close & Personal" storytelling approach to Olympic coverage? Are younger viewers more interested in live coverage, of a variety of events?

    Many implications are possible, but more information is needed.

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