NBC scores with Olympics opening weekend

Vancouver Games' viewership up 25% over 2006 competition

Continuing a recent streak of improved ratings for live events, the opening weekend of NBC's Winter Games coverage has posted near-record levels of viewership.

Through the first three days of coverage from Vancouver, NBC has averaged 28.6 million viewers per day -- 25% higher than the lackluster returns from the 2006 Torino Games.

That average is also the highest non-U.S. Winter Games opener since the Lillehammer Games in 1994, which received a boost from the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding scandal. This year may have also benefited from some dramatic headlines -- the tragic death of Georgian luge racer Nodar Kumaritashvili on Friday may have increased public awareness of the Games.

If one counts the number of viewers who sampled the Winter Games (watching at least six minutes), NBC's reach is a whopping 117 million viewers through the first three days. NBC's Web site is also benefiting from the coverage, with traffic to NBCOlympics.com up 250% from Torino.

The numbers are particularly impressive given the lack of ready-made Olympic moments so far this year.

Kumaritashvili's death presented the network with a delicate dilemma whether to show the disturbing crash footage. NBC opted to air it twice, once during the Nightly News and a second time before the start of the Opening Ceremony. NBC's decision seems appropriate, though for some critics, twice was too much and for others, not enough.

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Another disruption of the usual Olympic narrative came when star skater Apolo Anton Ohno won his sixth medal Saturday due to two of his competitors crashing at the last moment. Things perked up for U.S. viewers on Sunday after Johnny Spillane won the first-ever U.S. medal in the sport of Nordic combined.

NBC's fortunes should continue to improve as coverage of figure skating begins Monday night.