Olympics to break all-time viewer record

NBC says 208.7 mil viewers tuned in over 15 days

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NBC is rapidly closing on another historic ratings benchmark: The Beijing Games is set to become the most-watched U.S. television event of all time.

Through 15 days of coverage, 208.7 million viewers have watched the Olympics on NBC Universal (including the NBC broadcast network and its cable channels), according to Nielsen Media Research.

That’s only 300,000 fewer than the 1996 Atlanta Games. At 209 million viewers, Atlanta holds the all-time record for the most-viewed TV event.

But with two more nights of Games coverage to go, including the closing ceremony, NBC sent out a press release Saturday expressing confidence that Beijing will soon overthrow the old record.

The top five most-viewed events are all yesteryear Olympics coverage. NBC had a strong chance of setting a new record this round given its unprecedented dedication of 3,600 hours of coverage across a multitude of platforms.

The all-time number is based on a standard Nielsen measurement that sets a fairly low bar for engagement, however. A viewer needs only watch six minutes of coverage to qualify. The measurement is often used to determine how many saw a lengthy sporting event where viewers tune in sporadically rather than watch full telecasts from beginning to end.

Among nightly averages: The Summer Games in 15 days of primetime is at 28.1 million per night, running 11% ahead of  Athens in 2004.