NBC Universal off to fast start with Olympic ratings

Mon Aug 11, 2008 6:19pm EDT
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By Paul Thomasch

NEW YORK (Reuters) - NBC Universal's Olympics coverage is drawing huge audiences, helped by the extravagant opening ceremony and swimming star Michael Phelps, and setting the stage for what could be record TV ratings for the Games.

NBC Universal said the first two days of the Beijing Olympics drew an average audience of 29.1 million, making it the most highly rated broadcast of the Summer Games held outside the United States since 1976.

In total, 114 million viewers tuned in for at least part of its broadcast in the first two days, about 20 million more than the 2004 games in Athens, NBC said, citing figures from Nielsen Media Research.

NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric Co, paid nearly $900 million for rights to broadcast the games, and plans to air 3,600 hours of coverage between August 8 and August 24 across its broadcast, cable TV and online outlets.

"NBC has a lot at stake, both in terms of the event and a promotional platform for a new television season," David Scardino, the entertainment specialist with advertising agency RPA, said on Monday.

"I would think if I were NBC right now I'd be very pleased. It's still early, but judging off these ratings, they're in very good shape," he said.

Prior to the Olympics, NBC faced questions over whether its online coverage would detract from TV ratings and whether U.S. audiences were too consumed with other entertainment, such as iPods and video games, to concentrate on the telecast.

Right away, the network also drew criticism from some corners for its decision to tape the opening ceremony and delay the broadcast until prime-time evening hours -- which in the eastern United States meant the ceremony aired 12 hours after it occurred in Beijing.   Continued...

<p>An NBC Universal logo is pictured at the NBC Universal Summer press tour in Beverly Hills, California July 21, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>