A sobbing Russian figure skater berated by one of her coaches for a poor routine. Grim-looking cooling towers in the background of acrobatic snowboard jumps. Diplomatic boycotts. Half-empty stands. Announcers covering the games from Connecticut.

It all played out in a host country engaged in human rights atrocities that was also the origin site of a global pandemic.

For NBC, it wasn't exactly Olympic glory in China. 

BEIJING, CHINA - FEBRUARY 10: Aaron Ness #42 of United States in action against Team China during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group A match on Day 6 of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at National Indoor Stadium on February 10, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Fred Lee/Getty Images)

The media adjectives pouring in to describe the legacy of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics aren't pretty: "Disaster." "Joyless." And NBC's $7.75 billion investment in 2014 that gave it exclusive American media rights to the Olympic Games through 2032 is under question after a second consecutive ratings dud. 


Through Tuesday, according to The Associated Press, an average of 12.2 million watched the Olympics in primetime on NBC, cable, or its Peacock streaming service, a 42-percent dip from the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Only 10 million watched NBC alone, a 47-percent drop from 2018, and through early last week, it was down 57 percent in the critical 25-54 age demographic from the Pyeongchang games. That was even taking into account the Super Bowl viewership boost NBC got from airing the Olympics directly after the network aired the game on Feb. 13.

"These Olympics were a disaster for the network: a buzz-free, hermetically-sealed event in an authoritarian country a half-day’s time zone away, where the enduring images will be the emotional meltdown of Russian teen-agers after a drug-tainted figure skating competition and a bereft Mikaela Shiffrin, sitting on a ski slope wondering what went wrong," The Associated Press wrote.

"Viewers stayed away in alarming numbers, and NBC has to wonder whether it was extraordinarily bad luck or if the brand of a once-unifying event for tens of millions of people is permanently tainted."

Kamila Valieva, of the Russian Olympic Committee, falls in the women's free skate program during the figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Among the most memorable moments in the Games were Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva's meltdown and the cold response she received from coaches after falling several times and missing out on a medal. Valieva's presence was already controversial since she'd tested positive for a banned heart medication.


Slate noted NBC's TV ratings didn't take into account that many watched the Olympics on social media or streaming services – saying the numbers were likely "stratospheric" with the proliferation of smartphones – but acknowledged the obvious "headwinds" and how "China’s blatant disregard of human rights added a repulsive element to this year’s festivities."

The AP noted NBC's significant increase in streaming minutes from 2018, going from 2.2 billion to 3.5 billion. How that will affect how NBC sells its exclusive rights to the Games to advertisers in future years remains to be seen; as Slate noted, "to note that the reach of YouTube and TikTok is extending NBC’s viewership into the hundreds of millions might unintentionally send the network’s more lucrative broadcast audience into the sea of on-demand digital video consumption, where their value would be diluted."

The New York Times called the Games a "joyless spectacle" where China could only celebrate pulling the Games off on time and avoiding "total disaster."

"[For] much of these austere and distant Games, wintry not only in their weather but in their tenor itself, a post-pandemic shared future — the hug-and-harmony variety that the Olympics builds its entire multinational brand around — seemed all but out of reach," The AP wrote.


Even NBC News acknowledged the athletes themselves were overshadowed, writing, "The Beijing Winter Olympics drew to a close Sunday, rounding off the Games that will go down in history as much for their coronavirus restrictions and geopolitical tensions, as their nail-biting competitions and emotional moments. "

It's the second ratings flop in as many years for NBC. The 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games – delayed a year by the coronavirus pandemic that originated in Wuhan, China – averaged 12.9 million primetime viewers, its smallest Summer audience since NBC began airing them in 1988. NBC’s Tokyo Olympics dropped 49% of viewership compared to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 and 58% compared to the 2012 London edition. 

Other storylines clouding the Games were Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai's seemingly coerced retraction of a sexual assault allegation against a top government official, and China's support of Russia as it prepares what the Biden administration says is an imminent invasion of Ukraine.

Amid a U.S. diplomatic boycott, the Chinese Communist Party under Xi Jinping thumbed its nose at the world as it exulted in Beijing being the first city to host both the Summer and Winter games. 

China used a Uyghur athlete to deliver the Olympic flame in the opening ceremony – NBC's Savannah Guthrie called it an "in your face response" to the West – despite its ongoing ethnic cleansing of the minority and first-person accounts of systemic rape, torture, and sterilization. It also used a Chinese military commander, who was involved in deadly clashes with Indian border forces in 2020, as a torchbearer in a move that angered India.

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a keynote speech via video link at the leaders' summit of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 held in Kunming, southwest China's Yunnan Province, Oct. 9, 2021.  (Photo by Li Xueren/Xinhua via Getty Images)


NBC and other outlets sought at times to contextualize China's crimes against humanity – the Trump and Biden administrations agreed the CCP is committing genocide – but it was still viewed as insufficient by China critics like Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who wrote for Fox News Digital that NBC too often couched its language, took a "both-sides approach" and legitimized China's authoritarian government by quoting its denials.

"The media for the most part is still skittish when it comes to talking about Beijing's acts in Xinjiang and other places," author and prominent Chinese government critic Gordon Chang told Fox News Digital. "It's not alleged human rights violations. They are atrocities. There's genocide, as determined by both the Trump and Biden administrations. They're crimes against humanity, and the coverage, and this is not just the U.S media, it's around the world that you see there is an unwillingness to call it out for what it actually is."

Chang called himself an Olympics fan who skipped watching this year out of protest. He said NBC shouldn't have broadcast them at all.

"Normally I am totally glued, excluding all else, watching Olympics, but I didn't this year at all, and the reason is I thought it was wrong to have the Games in China," he said. "It was wrong for NBC to broadcast them … I'm surprised the ratings were so low. As a matter of fact, I'm stunned. And the reason is I thought these Games would attract an abnormally high viewership because it's in China and because of all the things that go with that, including the atrocities."

"I think part of it is because people just have made a decision that China is too atrocious to deal with, so therefore they didn't watch," he added, saying he was gladdened by the low numbers. "There is karma in the world." 


China wields tremendous influence over corporate behaviors thanks to being the world's largest country. Hollywood, major sports leagues, and media outlets have pulled their punches with and at times even outright been apologetic toward China, such as when NBA star LeBron James scolded a Houston Rockets executive for supporting Hong Kong democracy protesters, or when "F9" movie star John Cena apologized in Mandarin for saying Taiwan was an independent country. 

"China coerces and the United States government does not, and that goes a long way of explaining not only behavior in the media but also corporate behavior," Chang said.

In widely panned remarks earlier this month, ESPN guest J.A. Adande said the U.S. had no place to criticize China because of, among other things, Republican voting laws.

"And who are we to criticize China's human rights records when we have ongoing attacks by the agents of the state against unarmed citizens and we've got assaults on the voting rights of our people of color in various states in this country," he said on "Around The Horn."

Such equivocations by American progressives, Chang said, only benefit the world's worst actors.


"This is a leftist talking point, but it's utterly absurd," he said. "First of all, there is no comparison to what's happening in the United States versus what's happening inside China …  To say that people shouldn't complain is really to say these practices should continue, so this is an illogical argument and an argument that only serves the worst regimes on earth."

Fox News' Brian Flood contributed to this report.