NBC: Olympic viewers dive in

Execs say growth in online, mobile means digital is fueling TV appetite

Michael Phelps' quest for Olympic history boosted NBC to its highest rated night of the Beijing games Tuesday.

The network's Olympics juggernaut also is extending past TV, with solid increases online, better-than-expected mobile usage and a new-media strategy that NBC said is only helping ratings.

Unveiling the first data from the work-in-progress system it calls the Total Audience Measurement Index, NBC said that for the first four days of the Games, there has been an average of 96 million impressions across NBC and its other TV networks, online, mobile and VOD.

The TV measure, a progressive cume from Nielsen Media Research, reached its high point so far Sunday, with 107.4 million viewers watching at least a portion of the Olympics. It fell to 94.8 million on Monday, which still was higher than Friday or Saturday data.

More than 94% of the Games viewership is on TV, though online unique users jumped from 4.2 million on Friday (5.7% of the Olympic audience) to 7.8 million (7.6% of the audience) on Monday.

Mobile usage increased from 210,000 on Friday to 476,062 on Monday, though that represents 0.5% or less of total Olympics viewership. Still, NBC research chief Alan Wurtzel said the company was stunned at the growth of mobile. VOD is statistically insignificant.

NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel said that the company's strategy of round-the-clock coverage — nearly 3,600 hours between TV and online, not to mention VOD — is doing anything but diluting the market.

"It seems to fuel buzz and interest and drive the Olympic fan and viewer to primetime television," Zenkel said. "What we're seeing with digital is it's doing the same thing, but with a much greater appetite and intensity."

NBCOlympics.com in the first four days saw 373.9 million page views and 17.7 million video streams, both up strongly from the 2004 Athens Games. That works out to roughly one video stream per 20 page views. NBC research shows that 40% of NBCOlympics.com users surveyed used the VOD to view what they had already seen.

There were 1.7 million video streams for Sunday night's U.S.-winning 400-meter freestyle relay race (Michael Phelps' second gold medal) and 1.5 video streams shared by users. To Wurtzel, that shows NBC how the Olympic experience is being expanded through word-of-mouth and viral means.

"The Internet hardly cannibalizes," he said. "If anything, it fuels interest."

Nielsen Online said Wednesday that unique viewers to NBC's Olympics video site jumped 85% ON Monday to 2 million. The increase is tied in part to the at-work audience, which is in front of a computer instead of a TV during the workday. NBCOlympics.com saw 4.7 million unique visitors on Monday, up from 2.6 million on the opening day. Yahoo's Olympics site saw 5.2 million viewers Monday, Nielsen Online said.

Television ratings on the other NBC Universal networks also are up. MSNBC's primetime shows, for instance, are seeing an Olympic halo effect of their own. NBC said that 83% of the people who watched MSNBC's two-hour daily Olympic wrap-up continued into "Hardball."

"What it's doing is giving those channels an opportunity to promote themselves to people who wouldn't normally have been there," Wurtzel said. (partialdiff)
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