• Kyodo, Reuters

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TV viewership for the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics averaged 56.4% 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 of the ceremony, held in the spectatorless National Stadium on Friday, in the Kanto region in eastern Japan eclipsed the 47.9% for the 1984 Los Angeles Games and drew near the all-time high of 61.2% for the previous Tokyo Games opening ceremony.

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.

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 reporters in Tokyo, adding more than 80% 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."

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.

Viewership during the opening ceremony in the Kanto region reached as high as 61%, 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, according to Video Research.

In the Kansai region centering on Osaka, ratings for the nearly four-hour broadcast topped out at 54.6% during the athletes' parade.

Among gold medal-winning performances by Japanese athletes, judoka Naohisa Takato drew 24.2% for NHK in the men's under 60-kilogram final on Saturday, while 21.6% tuned in to TV Asahi to watch siblings Uta and Hifumi Abe in the women's under 52-kilogram and men's under 66-kilogram finals on Sunday.

Swimmer Yui Ohashi's gold medal in the women's 400-meter individual medley garnered 12.7%, while the skateboarding street final that crowned Yuto Horigome the sport's first Olympic champion got 12.0%, both on NHK.

Meanwhile, NBC's TV broadcast of the opening ceremony drew 16.7 million viewers, the smallest U.S. TV audience for the event in the past 33 years, according to preliminary data provided by Comcast-owned NBCUniversal on Saturday.

Across all platforms, including NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app, 17 million people watched the ceremony, the company said in an email.

The streaming audience on those platforms grew 76% from the 2018 Pyeongchang opening ceremony and 72% from the 2016 Rio opener, reflecting a change in viewing habits.

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