The first Wednesday of the 2014 Sochi Olympics saw Matt Lauer sitting in for an ailing Bob Costas again on NBC‘s primetime coverage and the return of an old rivalry. It wasn’t the U.S. and Canada women’s hockey teams — though they did play yesterday. Rather it was a direct match-up with American Idol. For just the second Winter Games in a row, NBC’s coverage beat the Fox singing competition in adults 18-49 and viewership – but not by as wide a margin as in 2010. Otherwise, it looks like NBC might want to get Costas back as soon as possible. Overall, fueled by snowboarding, lots of skating, and Slovenia’s Tina Maze and Switzerland’s Dominique Gisin’s historic downhill Alpine skiing gold medal tie, the network’s primetime broadcast drew a 5.6/16 rating last night. That’s a weeknight low for the Sochi Games and down a hard 37% from the 8.9/23 of the comparable night of February 17, 2010 at the Vancouver Olympics. That Wednesday four years ago was one of the biggest nights ratingswise of the Vancouver Games. NBC’s Wednesday Olympics package last night pulled in 20.77 million viewers, another fall from four years ago when the audience was a stellar 29.3 million. By the way, NBC announced this morning that Lauer will be at the Olympics anchor desk again tonight. We’ll update with Wednesday’s final Olympics numbers when they come in.
In its own competition, Idol culled this season’s contestants down to the Top 30 last night. The two-hour broadcast pulled in a 3.4/10 with 11.43 million viewers. That’s a 13% drop from the 3.9/11 rating and 13.29 million viewers of its February 5 episode. Head-to-head in the 8-10PM slot, the Olympics got a 5.3 rating with 20.21 million viewers. Idol took a much bigger hit four years ago in the key demo, when it fell 26% on February 17, 2010 compared with the previous week.
Besides Idol and the Olympics, the only other original on TV last night was Super Fun Night. The 8:30 PM freshman comedy on ABC got a 1.3/3 and was down 13% from last week to hit a low. CBS ran an encore of The Beatles: The Night That Changed America, A Grammy Salute, which first ran February 9, last night from 8:30-11 PM. The Fab Four tribute repeat earned a 0.9/3. Not surprisingly that’s a sharp fall from the 2.1/5 rating and 14 million viewers from the premiere.
In the meantime, here’s a bit of Olympics and Idol recent history. Four years ago on the similar night, NBC couldn’t stop cheering as the Olympics pulled ahead of Idol for the first time in almost six years as the two faced off in the 9 PM slot. Before that, the last time the Olympics took the lead over Idol was on May 17, 2004, during the Athens Games. In 2010, with Lindsey Vonn on the slopes and in the spotlight, NBC led by 30% with a 9.0/22 among adults 18-49 against Idol’s 6.9/14. In terms of viewers, that night saw 30.1 million watching during the hour to Idol’s 18.4 million. In one of its strongest night of the 2010 Games, NBC got a household rating of 16.7/27 on February 17 that year, a 48% leap versus the comparable night of the 2006 Torino Games, which got an 11.3/18.
A side note: Amid all the skiing last night on NBC, which had 13.3/21 in overnight metered market results, there was no Vonn on the slopes. Though she was scheduled to ski yesterday, the defending gold medalist had to drop out of the Sochi Games due to a knee injury.
Deadline's Dominic Patten - tip him here.