NBC off to golden start at Olympics

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NBC's Olympic dream of ratings fireworks came true.

The network's presentation of the Summer Games from Beijing got off to a roaring start thanks to a record-breaking Opening Ceremony and a strong first day of competition coverage.

Friday's telecast was the most-watched and highest-rated non-U.S. Summer Olympics opener ever. The opening gala at Beijing's National Stadium averaged 34.2 million viewers and received an 18.6 national household rating.

In the nearly 50 years of televised Olympics, that's higher than any previous nondomestic summer opener, — up 35% in viewers from the Athens ceremony in 2004 (25.4 million, 14.6 rating) and 25% higher than Sydney in 2000 (18.5/32). The household rating bested the 1960 Rome Games on CBS (18.1), a record that stood for 48 years.

The mammoth figures weren't quite enough to overturn all the the

the U.S., however. The rating was 14% shy of the Atlanta Games in 1996 (39.8 million, 23.6 rating).

NBC's performance was far above industry expectations. Insiders had estimated that the numbers would drop about 11% compared with the Athens Games opener. Overall broadcast TV ratings have fallen 16% since 2004.

Plus, NBC was chided for delaying the broadcast of the ceremony until primetime while most nations aired the event live. Yet NBC's patience might have aided the show in ways not anticipated by the network; with gushing reviews and lavish images saturating the media Friday, many viewers likely tuned in to see whether the event could live up to the hype.

NBC has claimed more than $1 billion in advertising revenue for the Summer Games and spent a reported $894 million to acquire the U.S. broadcast and digital rights.

The momentum continued Saturday night with the network's first round of competition coverage, which averaged 24.1 million viewers and a 13.9 rating/27 share, an 18% jump from Athens.

Overall, NBC's two-day average Olympics viewership marks the best primetime rating performance through the first Saturday for a non-U.S. Summer Olympics since Montreal in 1976. (partialdiff)
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