NBC not as splashy without Phelps races

Sunday Olympics on par with same night in Athens

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Related: NBC has best Saturday since 1990

NBC's second Sunday night of Olympic competition -- and its first after Michael Phelps' historic gold medal run -- came in flat compared with four years ago.

Sunday's primetime telecast averaged a 15.8 rating/28 share, on par with the same night in Athens four years ago when the U.S. won three gold medals in track and field. Primetime viewership was 26.8 million, up 3% from the 2004 games, Nielsen Media Research said.

The ratings mark one of the weaker entries in NBC's current summer run, with the numbers down a couple points compared with last week. Still, concerns that Phelps completing his quest to become the most decorated Olympian of all time would result in a ratings nosedive appear unfounded.

But the night wasn't even the weakest of NBC's current run -- Friday, Aug. 15, and Saturday, Aug. 9, were lower in their meter market overnights. Although slipping, NBC's primetime ratings still are comfortably ahead of Athens in 2004. The 10-day average viewership in primetime is 29.8 million, up 14% from Athens' 26.2 million. The average household rating through Sunday is 17.2/30, well ahead of Athens' 15.8/28 and the best for an offshore Olympics since 1992's 18.6/35.

But there's an expectation that the ratings could decline further with the lack of Phelps.

In a research note Monday, Magna Global's Steve Sternberg said the swimming and women's gymnastics where the U.S. performed well aren't happening in the second week.

"The same degree of success for U.S. athletes is not expected in the track and field events," Sternberg said. "Generally during the Summer Olympics, the average ratings on television decline in Week 2."

Sunday wasn't entirely Phelps-free, however. Bob Costas interviewed the swimmer, his coach and his mother, taking a detailed look at Phelps' performance throughout the Games. Later, ratings-spiking women's gymnastics took center stage.

NBC has seen strong gains for its Olympic-related programming on its cable channels, with USA Network averaging 960,000 viewers, up 20% from 2004, while MSNBC is averaging 650,000 viewers (up 22%) and CNBC 606,000 (up 165%). Oxygen, which until this month never had Olympic coverage, averaged 658,000 viewers and the week of Aug. 11 scored its highest-ever delivery in the time period.

Paul J. Gough reported from New York; James Hibberd reported from Los Angeles.
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