Games spur record Web numbers in U.S.

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American sports fans are turning to the Web in droves to follow the 2008 Summer Olympics, setting as many records as the Olympic swimmers during the first four days of the Beijing Games, according to Nielsen Online and NBC Universal.

From Wednesday, two days before the Opening Ceremony, through Saturday, the first full day of competition, traffic has steadily built on various sports and official Olympic sites, with NBC and Yahoo emerging as clear early leaders. According to Nielsen, NBCOlympics.com — which besides offering up-to-the-minute results and highlights will stream more than 2,200 hours of live competition through the course of the Games' 17 days — drew more than 4 million unique users Saturday. That's up from the 2.7 million users who logged in the previous day and fewer than 1 million that did so that Wednesday.

Yahoo's Olympics site, which does not offer live footage, pulled in a solid 3.3 million unique users Saturday, bringing it within 684,000 users of NBC's traffic and 2 million more than the third-place finisher, AOL Olympics, which saw more than 1 million users log in that day.

Meanwhile, NBC officials are reporting that, at least early on, its Olympics site is blowing away the results of the Summer Games four years ago in Athens. The site recorded 70 million page views Friday (Opening Ceremony), a tenfold increase versus the 7 million page views generated in 2004. In fact, those 70 million page views bested the Athens Olympics' strongest traffic day by almost 50 million, according to NBC.

As for its much-hyped live video offering, NBCOlympics appears to be off to a solid start, though comparisons are difficult because until this year the network has offered next to no live Olympic coverage on the Web. More than 430,000 users sought out video footage of the Opening Ceremony on Friday (that figure represents all traffic to NBC's video URL, whether fans are accessing live or on-demand footage). By the next day, according to Nielsen, that audience soared past 850,000 as competition began in such marquee events as swimming and gymnastics.

Other prominent sports news sites have enjoyed traffic spikes as a result of early interest in the Games but not in the neighborhood of NBC, Yahoo and AOL's Olympics sites. Perhaps surprisingly, ESPN.com reached just 343,000 uniques on Saturday, up just 100,000 from the previous day. Sports Illustrated's Olympics site yielded 112,000 users Saturday, up from 45,000 on the day of the Opening Ceremony. Both sports category leaders were beaten by the New York Times' Olympics site, which pulled in 466,000 users during the first day of competition.

Mike Shields is a reporter for Mediaweek.
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