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BEIJING — The Beijing Olympics ended Sunday, attracting 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 Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge.
“We had more broadcast coverage to more people, in more places than ever,” Rogge said in his closing press conference on Sunday morning in the Chinese capital.
Over the past 16 days, images of a transformed Beijing 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.
Data from Nielsen Media Research showed that 96% of Chinese families watched at least some portion of the Olympics on China Central Television, the country’s primary state-run broadcaster. Those viewers were rewarded with the home nation winning a record-shattering 51 gold medals. The U.S. finished with a higher total number of medals, with 110 to China’s 100.
CCTV paid about $17 million for exclusive broadcast rights in China against an estimated $394 million in Olympic advertising revenue, according to GroupM, a media buyer that tracks television advertising revenue here.
CCTV regularly used Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, as a backdrop for its Olympics commentary, changing for a new generation of Chinese the image of the scene of the Chinese army’s massacre of hundreds of pro-Democracy activists in 1989. The same year, Jiang Zemin, who appeared in Sunday’s CCTV broadcast twice, took over as China’s highest leader. Jiang was succeed in 2003 by Hu Jintao, China’s current president, who sat next to Rogge throughout the evening’s two-hour ceremony.
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.
Not long after Rogge spoke, Washington’s top diplomat in China pressed Beijing to free eight Americans, a German and a British citizen jailed for 10 days for unfurling banners criticizing China’s rule in Tibet in the city just before and during the Games.
Coverage of many final sports contests continued throughout the day. Just past 1 p.m. local time, flagship channel CCTV-1 broadcast a glowing profile of local hero Zou Shiming, the light flyweight boxer. But before viewers knew it, Zou’s bout was over as Serdamba Purevdorj of Mongolia bowed out in the first seconds of the second round with a hurt shoulder. The anti-climax saw CCTV switch back to ads from dairy giant Yili and an oft-repeated Olympics highlights montage set to swelling music.
The montage included footage of spectacular performances by American swimmer Michael Phelps — who broke a record by winning eight gold medals in one Olympics, pleasing Visa, his global sponsor — and by Jamaican Usain Bolt, the first man to win and set world records in both the 100- and 200-meter sprints at an Olympics. Bolt is sponsored by Puma.
TV footage of Bolt’s boastful and joyous celebrations on the track will endure in stark contrast to the frequently replayed pained expression of injured Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang, who, on Day 11, dropped from his first qualifying heat, disappointing sponsors Coca-Cola, Nike and Chinese computer maker Lenovo.
At 8 p.m. Sunday, the National Stadium, better known as the Bird’s Nest, lit up under a massive fireworks display and thunderous music from both local artists such as Wong Faye and Hong Kong film star Jackie Chan and English imports Leona Lewis and Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, both lead actors in London’s receipt of the Olympic torch from Beijing.
As part of the London 2012 Olympic presentation, David Beckham, now a Hollywood fixture as a player on the Los Angeles Galaxy team, rose from a double-decker London bus circling the athletics track to kick a soccer ball into a teeming crowd of Chinese performers swarming over the field in the center.
After a speech thanking the world for sharing the Olympic dream with Beijing, the city’s former mayor, Liu Qi, handed the Olympic flag to Rogge, who then passed it to London Mayor Boris Johnson.
CCTV cameras lingered on Chinese basketball star and Houston Rockets center Yao Ming. Notably absent was Phelps, who was swept to London days ago by Visa to begin the next leg of his work as an Olympics spokesman.
The Beijing Olympics set the stage for the future of sportscasting in China, with dedicated sports channel CCTV-5, led by CEO Jiang Heping, gearing up to realize a deal announced in July for a 20-year exclusive media partnership with New York-based sports marketing giant IMG Worldwide.
The Olympics brought to light increasingly competitive efforts by global media and marketing companies trying to reach China’s gigantic TV audience.
Over the course of the Games, CCTV broadcast a variety of Olympics feature and live programming on seven of its 18 channels, including flagship CCTV-1 and the agricultural channel, CCTV-7, the channel geared to reach 800 million Chinese viewers living in the countryside.
Mitch Barns, president of the Nielsen Co. for Greater China, called the Olympics “a great testing ground” for the company’s 2,000 employees here.
Nielsen and its joint-venture partners provided up-to-the minute data about Olympics viewership to clients from 40 countries around the world, including to the Beijing Olympics organizing committee and to NBC.
Barns said the Olympics here signaled the end of a 10-year trend in China that saw marketers focus mostly on expanding geographic distribution for their products.
“Territory expansion is starting to flatten out for many, so to continue to grow, they now need to get good at marketing and put more into advertising and who they want to target with it,” Barns said.
Nielsen’s move to help marketers in China’s largest and second-tier cities saw the company open an office in Chengdu in 2007 and set plans to open client service offices in provincial capitals for media and retail measurement over the next 12 months. Nielsen is the parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.
As the two-hour closing ceremony broadcast came to a close with the CCTV Olympics logo, CCTV-1 cut straight into an ad for milk from Yili featuring the words: “The power of 1 billion people. The dream of 1 billion people. Win in China.”
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