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Commercials, Delay, Portuguese Alphabet Blamed For Big Drop In Viewers For Rio Opening Ceremony

NEW YORK (CBS/AP) -- An estimated 26.5 million people watched NBC's coverage of the Olympic opening ceremony, a sharp 35 percent drop from the record-setting viewership of the curtain-lifter in London four years ago.

The opening ceremony of the London Games was seen by 40.7 million people in the U.S. NBC suggested Saturday that the gap will be narrowed when details about time-shifted viewing and people who streamed Friday night's telecast on mobile devices become available in coming days.

"To compare linear TV viewership today versus four years ago isn't logical," NBC Sports spokesman Greg Hughes said.

The four-year difference was much kinder to NBC the last time around; the Beijing opening in 2008 reached 34.9 million people, according to the Nielsen company.

USA's Michael Phelps (C) leads the USA delegation during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro. (JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images)

One of NBC's pre-games fears came true: viewership dropped off after the entrance of the United States team in the Parade of Nations. But because the Portuguese alphabet was used, the U.S. team (Estados Unidos) appeared much earlier in the broadcast than is typical.

NBC also front-loaded many of its commercial breaks early in the broadcast so there were fewer during the Parade of Nations. Judging by the harsh social media reaction, that may have backfired. It was a culture shock to binge-watchers and time-shifters who have become accustomed to television without commercials.

The ceremony also ran long, and wasn't helped by NBC's decision to air it on tape-delay so it started in prime time. The lighting of the Olympic cauldron wasn't shown until after midnight. A joke by Matt Lauer during the teams' entrance had a ring of truth: "Are we at Timor-Leste (East Timor) already?" he said. "Time is flying by."

The London Games proved a smash success for NBC. Viewers may simply be less interested in the Olympics from Rio -- and that won't become clear for a few more days.

© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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