NBCU Nets Set Record for Winning Beijing Games

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The Olympic flame has been doused and the world's athletes won't unite again until the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, but NBC Universal provided strong Nielsen memories from its Beijing coverage.

NBCU's various TV properties attracted 214 million viewers who watched at least part of its 1,400 hours of coverage from the 2008 Summer Olympics, making it the most-viewed TV event in U.S. history. That total grew 2.4% from the 209 million that watched the action from Atlanta in 1996, when the Summer Games were last hosted in the U.S., and 5.4% from the most recent games in Athens during 2004, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

NBCU Cable did its part to push the Nielsen needle, pulling in a record 88 million viewers for its coverage from China, the most ever for an Olympics and 28% above the 68 million from Athens.

It should be pointed out that NBCU Cable's presentation was far more expansive this time around, totaling 1,214.5 hours — USA 165, CNBC 95.5, MSNBC 175, Oxygen 20, Telemundo 380, Universal HD 379 — compared with 585 from Athens, where USA offered 49, CNBC 111, MSNBC 133.5, Bravo 122 and Telemundo 169.5.

Individually, USA set the cable pace, as the “characters” network averaged a 0.70 household rating, 491,000 18-to-49-year-old watchers and 484,000 persons 25 to 54 across its Olympic fare. NBCU didn't provide comparisons with the action from Athens.

MSNBC scored a 0.46 household rating, 267,000 with the 18-to-49 set and 267,000 persons 25 to 54 during the Beijing Games.

CNBC tallied a 0.32 household mark, 229,000 adults 18 to 49 and 313,000 among the 25-to-54 group, while Oxygen's initial Olympic involvement yielded a 0.43 household, 291,000 18 to 49s and 313,000 24 to 54s.

NBCU officials said USA's presentation was up double digits across all key demos when measured against the prior four-week average, while the other three networks notched triple-digit advances from the month-earlier span.

As for NBCU Cable's gold-medal rating, officials with the programmer declined to specify the event. However, a look at Nielsen cable data from Aug. 9 through Aug. 24 shows that USA averaged 3.45 million watchers in the 10 a.m. hour on the Games' last day, a time when the service was airing an encore of the U.S. men's basketball team's “redemptive” gold medal win against Spain.

Propelled by strong opening and closing ceremonies from the Bird's Nest — the latter received a 15.5 rating/24 share, the best for that event for a non-U.S.-hosted Olympics since Montreal in 1976 — and the Michael Phelps phenomenon, NBC averaged a 16.2/28 share and 27.7 million viewers for its 17 primetime telecasts. From a ratings perspective, Beijing had the top ratings mark since the Peacock's 17.1/33 from Barcelona in 1992, while its viewership level was the most for an Olympics held outside the States since Montreal.

Beijing bested by 8% and 13%, respectively, the 15.0/26 and 24.6 million average viewers for the '04 Athens Games.

“This audience record is something I thought I'd never see again, but what really satisfied me is the way in which these Olympics truly captivated and seemed to inspire our country,” said Dick Ebersol, chairman, NBC Universal Sports & Olympics and executive producer of NBCU Beijing Olympics coverage.