Olympics set all-time viewing record


NBC Universal proudly reports that the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics were the most watched event in US television history – and that’s with the final day yet to be added to the tally. Through Saturday, Nielsen data showed that 211 million Americans had watched part of the Olympics on NBC Universal’s broadcast and cable networks. The previous record was 209 million for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.

An increasing amount of Olympics viewing is coming from cable. Through 16 days, 86 million people watched the coverage on NBC Universal’s cable networks, a 25% gain from the first 16 days of the Athens Games (69 million) and more than the 17-day total viewership for any previous Olympics (Athens, 69 million). Of course, that’s still well shy of the numbers watching NBC, where the most popular Olympic events are concentrated in primetime.


1. *2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, 211 million (*through 16 days)

2. 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, 209 million (17 days)

3. 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics, 204 million (16 days)

4 . 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, 203 million (17 days)

5. 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, 194 million (17 days)

· The Beijing Olympic 16-day average primetime viewership is 27.7 million, 11 percent ahead of Athens in 2004 (24.9 million). NBC’s average of a 16.2 rating, 28 share is the best through the final Saturday for a Summer Olympics outside the U.S. since Barcelona in 1992 (17.3/33), and is a seven percent jump from Athens in 2004 (15.2/27).

· Saturday night garnered 43 million total viewers in primetime and 16.5 million average viewers. The night earned a 10.2 rating/19 share. The comparable night in Athens did an 11.1 rating/21 share and averaged 18.0 million viewers.

RBR/TVBR observation: Good show, guys! Dick Ebersol and his team did a great job of presenting far and away more Olympic coverage than ever done before. They figured out which Olympic events would be most interesting in primetime and successfully persuaded the Chinese organizers to schedule those early in the day in Beijing, which put them into American living rooms in TV primetime. There was more video than even the most devoted sports junkie could handle – and an amazing portion was live, whether on NBC, one of the cable nets or on the Internet. The web is still a relatively small portion of the ad revenue, but that will keep growing. Having set the bar so high this time with 3,600 hours of programming, what will NBC Universal do to top four years hence?