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Beijing Olympics End With Massive Viewership
By James Hibberd and Jonathan Landreth August 25, 2008
LOS ANGELES/BEIJING (Hollywood Reporter) - NBC Universal smashed yet another historic ratings benchmark: The Beijing Olympics is the most-watched U.S. television event of all time.
Through 16 days of coverage, 211 million viewers tuned in to the Olympics on NBC Universal's broadcast and cable outlets, according to NBC citing Nielsen Media Research.
That's 2 million more than watched the 1996 Atlanta Games, the previous all-time record-holder. And with Sunday's Games coverage and closing ceremony, NBC Universal expects to wrap up its 17-day run with gold-medal-worthy numbers. The company stands a strong chance of setting a new most-viewed benchmark thanks to its unprecedented dedication of 3,600 hours of Games coverage across a multitude of platforms.
In Beijing, the final day of the Games drew nearly all of China's 1.3 billion people to their televisions, making it "likely to be the most widely watched Games in Olympic history," according to International Olympics Committee president Jacques Rogge.
"We had more broadcast coverage to more people, in more places than ever," Rogge said in his closing press conference Sunday in the Chinese capital.
Over the past 16 days, images of China's transformed capital were beamed into primetime in the U.S., the world's second-largest television market in terms of number of viewers, by NBC, which paid $894 million for the exclusive U.S. broadcast rights, from which it says it has garnered more than $1 billion in advertising revenue.
The broadcast network's strong ratings, averaging 27.7 million viewers per night, defied industry expectations by trending 11 percent higher than its coverage of the Athens Games four years ago.
The numbers will likely result in greater competition among broadcast companies for rights to air the Games. With the ratings of so many once reliable staples of primetime entertainment falling victim to DVR-delayed viewing and an increasingly fractured audience, NBC's performance suggests that the Olympics may be one of the few events (along with the Super Bowl) that's impervious to the dramatic media landscape changes of the past few years.
NBC giddy at conclusion of successful Olympics
NEW YORK (AP) — NBC says the Beijing Olympics proved so captivating that millions of Americans now need to catch up on some sleep.
A survey of people who followed the Olympics found that 76% said they stayed up later than normal to watch, NBC said Sunday. More than half of its specially convened panel said they got fewer hours of sleep.
NBC Universal is giddy following its 17-day Olympics coverage, which ended Sunday with a tape-delayed presentation of the closing ceremonies. With thousands of hours available on the broadcast network, cable affiliates and online, the company said it surpassed the 1996 Atlantic Olympics to capture more viewers than any other event in U.S. television history.
"It's safe to say it's gone beyond my wildest expectations, and my expectations were really high," said David Neal, executive vice president of NBC Olympics.
Through Saturday night, NBC averaged 27.7 million viewers a night for its prime-time coverage, still the focal point for attention and advertising sales. That won't top the 33.1 million average for Atlanta. (NBC Universal attracted more viewers overall this year because of the cable hours that weren't available in Atlanta.)
Most important was that NBC was able to eclipse the prime-time averages for Athens in 2004 (24.6 million) and Sydney in 2000 (21.5 million). With more networks, websites and video games competing for attention each year, it's the rare television event that sees such growth.
NBC's effort to convince Olympics officials to schedule certain events in the morning so the network could show them live everywhere except the West Coast (Beijing's time zone is 12 hours ahead of New York's), paid off handsomely.
Michael Phelps' bid for eight gold medals was a dream when the Olympics began and for NBC, it turned into a miniseries.
Without being able to check for the results on the Internet in advance, an estimated 39.9 million people tuned in to watch Phelps break Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals in a single Olympics on his final relay.
American gymnasts Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson, and beach volleyball players Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh were secondary stars, but their competitions also unfolded live in prime-time.
When there was less live action during the second week, viewers began to lose interest. Only 17.6 million people watched Friday night, and a million fewer on Saturday, according to Nielsen Media Research.
The time difference will make things more difficult for the London Games in 2012. For NBC to show something live in prime-time then, an event would have to be scheduled after midnight — hardly an ideal time for athletes or live spectators.
NBC News brought the "Today" show and "Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams to Beijing. During a 10-day period just before the games and in the first week of competition, those shows devoted 48% of their newshole to the Olympics, far more than their rivals. That led the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism to question, in a report, how much these broadcasts were letting business considerations influence news coverage.
It paid off in ratings, though. The already dominant "Today" show had its biggest margin of victory in eight years and Williams' broadcast turned what is usually a close race with ABC into a rout.
Key for NBC will be seeing whether, in the coming weeks, some of these gains become more permanent. The network also wants to see if its relentless promotion of NBC's new prime-time season will pay off; that tends to be a much harder sell.
The success of the Beijing Games may have a hidden costs down the line for NBC Universal, which is owned by General Electric Co. NBC Universal paid $894 million for the rights to broadcast the games. ESPN, owned by the Walt Disney Co., has expressed interest in bidding for the 2014 and 2016 games, and the 2008 result may send bids soaring.
For now, NBC wants to bask. Its panel of 600 Olympics viewers also found that 90% had been talking about the Olympics with their friends and family.
"The results from this survey clearly show that these games were truly a cultural event," said Alan Wurtzel, NBC's chief researcher.