Medals for masses

Beijing Olympics most-watched TV event ever

NBC Universal has 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 Uni's broadcast and cable properties, according to NBC citing Nielsen Media Research.

That's 2 million more than the 1996 Atlanta Games, the previous record-holder. And with Sunday's Games coverage and Closing Ceremony, NBC expects to wrap its 17-day run with gold-medal-worthy numbers. The company stands a strong chance of setting a most-viewed benchmark this round because of its unprecedented dedication of 3,600 hours of Games coverage across a multitude of platforms.

In Beijing, the final day of the Games attracted 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 news 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 by 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 has also performed well on its own (averaging 27.7 million viewers per night), defying industry expectations by trending 11% 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 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.

Data from Nielsen Media Research showed 96% of Chinese families watched at least some of the Olympics on China Central Television, the country's primary state-run broadcaster.

CCTV paid about $17 million for exclusive broadcast rights in China against an estimated $394 million in Olympic advertising revenue, according to Group M, a media buyer that tracks television advertising revenue here.

Rogge defended the Olympics governing body's decision to hold the XXIX Olympiad in a world capital whose government is widely criticized for denying its citizens freedom of expression. Of the 77 applications filed to stage protests in three approved zones in Beijing during the Games, none was approved.

"The IOC and the Olympic Games cannot force changes on sovereign nations or solve all the ills of the world. But we can — and we do — contribute to positive change through sport," Rogge said.

James Hibberd reported from Los Angeles; Jonathan Landreth reported from Beijing.
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