Capped by strong viewership for the closing ceremony, the networks of NBCUniversal scored the most-watched TV event in U.S. history with their coverage of the Games of the XXX Olympiad.
The 2012 London Olympics reached 219.4 million Americans across NBC, NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo and Telemundo, according to Nielsen data. That combined delivery exceeded the previous record, the 215 million who watched some portions of the 2008 Beijing Games.
During its first Olympics since becoming owned by Comcast and 13th overall, NBCUniversal, presented 5,535 hours from London across the aforementioned networks; NBCOlympics.com; two specialty channels, one for basketball, the other for soccer; and the first-ever 3D platform. Together, those platforms surpassed the total for Beijing by nearly 2,000 hours.
After initial forecasts calling for a loss approaching $200 million, an improved ad market for the London Games and a strong early ratings performance by the London action had NBCU officials revising their fiscal call for the 2012 Olympics to near the break-even level and perhaps finish in the black. The programmer, which spent $1.18 billion to acquired the rights from the IOC and another $100 million or more on production, has yet to officially declare its London ledger.
NBC notched an average audience of 31 million for the closing ceremony on Aug. 12, the most-for a non-U.S. Summer Olympics since ABC aired the Montreal Games in 1976. Sunday night's viewership topped the last night in Beijing's 27.8 million by 12% and the 2004 Athens Games' 19.6 million by 58%.
NBC's coverage of the closing ceremony from 8:30 p.m-10:58 p.m. ( ET/PT) earned a 17.0/27 national household rating/share, up 10% from Beijing's 15.5/25 and 43% from Athens' 11.9/20.
All told, NBC, which tallied nine nights from London above the 30 million-viewer mark, versus five for Beijing and two in Athens, averaged 31.1 million viewers over 17 nights in primetime, making it the most-watched non-U.S. Summer Olympics since 1976. The 2012 Games topped Beijing's 27.7 million and Athens' 24.6 million by 12% and 26%, respectively.
The London Olympics 17-night primetime household rating of 17.5/30 share tied the 1988 Seoul Olympics as the highest-rated non-U.S. Summer Olympics since Montreal. London's rating stood 8% higher than Beijing's 16.2/28, and 17% above Athens' 15.0/26, which marked the last European Summer Olympics.
NBC's primetime telecasts from London beat Beijing 16 out of 17 times, falling only on Aug. 4, night nine. During the comparable night from China, Michael Phelps won his eighth gold medal and Usain Bolt burst onto to the scene with a then-Olympic record in the 100-meter sprint.
London topped Beijing on 15 of 17 nights in household rating -- taking the silver on the aforementioned night and tying the 2008 competition on the 11th night, Aug. 6, with a 15.8 mark.
"The London Olympics was a wonderful 17 days for NBCUniversal, exceeding all our expectations in viewership, digital consumption and revenue," said NBCU CEO Steve Burke in a statement. "Every part of our company contributed to our success, once again showing how effective we can be when we all get together to support a large project. This was the first Olympic Games for Comcast and the new NBCUniversal, and the first in history in which every minute of every event was available live. We are proud to have been part of the last two weeks, and we couldn't have asked for a better start to our long run of Olympic Games through 2020."
Noted NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus: "For 17 days, NBCUniversal has surrounded the American viewer with the London Olympics, which have now become the most-watched event in U.S. television history. There are thousands of dedicated and talented people in London and New York who take great pride in being part of these historic Games and this television milestone."