Beijing Games most-watched U.S. TV event

Beats previous record-holder by 2 million viewers

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NBC Universal 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 all-time record-holder. And with another night of Games coverage to go, including the closing ceremony, NBC Uni expects to wrap up its 17-day run with all-around record numbers. The company stands a strong chance of setting a new most-viewed benchmark this round because of its unprecedented dedication of 3,600 hours of Games coverage across a multitude of platforms.

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.

The key question moving forward is whether NBC can retain any of this Olympics viewership going into the fall.

The network has relentlessly aired promos for new shows such as "My Own Worst Enemy" and "Kath & Kim," as well as returning favorites. But sports coverage has not been a reliable way to drive viewers to entertainment programs.

The first test will be Monday. NBC will run an original "Deal or No Deal" followed by the series premiere of "America's Toughest Jobs," a show that's received considerable promotion during the Games.

With NBC Uni already claiming an ad sales victory lap for its Games ratings, even a modest boost for its entertainment programs will likely be viewed as a medal-worthy achievement.