NBC's Olympics ratings roll continues

Saturday night's coverage averages 24.1 mil viewers

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Coming off a record-setting opening ceremony, NBC's first night of Olympics competition Saturday continued to show elevated viewership.

Saturday night's coverage of swimming, men's gymnastics and women's volleyball averaged 24.1 million viewers and a 13.9 rating/27 share, beating Athens in 2004 18%% and ranking as the highest first night of competition since Barcelona in 1992. Now that's not as great of a percentage leap as the Beijing opening ceremony had over Athens (27%), but it still ranks as the highest first-night of summer off-shore Olympic competition since Barcelona in 1992. NBC's two-day average viewership is 29.1 million (16.2/30), the best primetime rating through the first Saturday for a non-U.S. Summer Olympics since Montreal in '76.

NBC Sports is getting a little over the top with its ratings boosts, however. The Olympics press releases have headlines like "70 Million Viewers Saw Opening Ceremony on NBC," numbers that some media outlets have been running with.

It might seem like a wonkish distinction, but those "number of viewers reached" figures are how many viewed at least six minutes of the telecast (then, in a great many cases, turned it off). This would be like a record label bragging about how many listeners have merely heard a new album. Just because you've heard it, doesn't mean you bought it. And in TV, a viewer doesn't "buy" a program unless they actually watch it.

Meanwhile, ratings for the opening ceremony are being tallied from around the world. At least 63% of China's total viewing audience watched the opener – that's 393 million viewers. In France, nearly one in two viewers watched the event live. In Italy, the opening ceremony drew a 49% share of the market.