Beijing Olympics end with massive viewership

Mon Aug 25, 2008 12:30am EDT
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By James Hibberd and Jonathan Landreth

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.   Continued...

<p>Fireworks explode during the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games at the National Stadium, August 24, 2008. The stadium is also known as the Bird's Nest. REUTERS/Claro Cortes</p>