TV viewership for the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics averaged 56.4 percent in the capital and its surrounding areas, the highest for the event since the previous Tokyo Olympics in 1964, an audience ratings firm said Monday.
Video Research Ltd. said the preliminary rating for public broadcaster NHK's live broadcast on Friday in the Kanto region in eastern Japan eclipsed the 47.9 percent for the 1984 Los Angeles Games and drew near the all-time high of 61.2 percent for the previous Tokyo Games.
The solid rating came despite mixed attitudes in the lead-up to the Olympics and Paralympics over whether they should go ahead amid the coronavirus pandemic, as well as a string of scandals involving games officials.
With Tokyo under a fourth COVID-19 state of emergency and organizers having decided to ban spectators at venues, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has called on the public to cheer athletes at home.
An estimated 73.27 million people across Japan, which has a population of about 125 million, tuned in to NHK and other channels to watch the opening ceremony take place in the National Stadium without spectators, according to Video Research.
The nearly four-hour event was the most viewed event in the last 10 years in the country, said Yiannis Exarchos, CEO of Olympic Broadcasting Services.
"Clearly the opening ceremony had a very, very high level of consumption," he told a press conference in Tokyo, adding more than 80 percent of all Japanese people have watched some part of the games and that engagement on digital platforms is at a record-high level.
"Of course, in Japan it's aided very much by the success of the Japanese athletes and the gold medals."
The rating for NHK'S broadcast of the opening ceremony in the Kanto region reached as high as 61 percent, marked first during a performance featuring actress Miki Maya and tap dancer Kazunori Kumagai and again shortly after the athletes began marching into the stadium, said Video Research.
Among gold medal-winning performances by Japanese athletes, judoka Naohisa Takato drew 24.2 percent for NHK in the men's under 60-kilogram final on Saturday, while 21.6 percent tuned in to TV Asahi to watch siblings Uta and Hifumi Abe in the women's under 52-kg and men's under 66-kg finals on Sunday.
Swimmer Yui Ohashi's gold medal in the women's 400-meter individual medley garnered 12.7 percent, while the skateboarding street final that crowned Yuto Horigome the sport's first Olympic champion got 12.0 percent, both on NHK.
In the Kansai region centering on Osaka, viewership for the NHK broadcast averaged 49.6 percent and topped out during the athletes' parade at 54.6 percent.
Enthusiasm for the Olympics could be a blessing for Suga, who had hoped the sporting extravaganza will give him a needed popularity boost ahead of a party leadership race and general election this year.
Suga met with Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike at his official residence on Sunday to discuss COVID-19 countermeasures, with the two agreeing the Olympics are going "very smoothly."