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Olympics Seeking Viewership Record

Aug 25, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The Beijing Olympic Games are on pace to become the most viewed event in television history, racking up 206 million viewers in 13 days. That’s only 3 million viewers behind the reigning record holder, the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, with four days still to count.
It helps that the rest of the networks are essentially hibernating during the Olympics, as Fox, CBS and ABC hit 21-year ratings lows during the first week of Olympic coverage.
With the huge number of viewers on both TV and NBCOlympics.com, is NBC Universal guaranteed its own gold?
The company’s much-ballyhooed $1 billion-plus in Olympics advertising money must be balanced against the $894 million it paid for the 2008 contract—not to mention production costs of around-the-clock coverage from Beijing.
Official stats will be released after the Olympics end, but in years past, NBC has either broken even or lost a small amount of money in direct costs of the Olympics.
These Olympics could stem that tide, but the main payback for the company may be the platform the Games provide for promoting fall programming at NBC, which has been mired in fourth place in the ratings.
NBC is promoting new shows like “Kath and Kim,” “My Own Worst Enemy” and “Knight Rider,” as well as sophomore series such as “Chuck.” Top performers like “The Office” and “Heroes” also are getting hyped.
Through Thursday, NBC had averaged 28.6 million viewers a night for its Olympics coverage, while NBC Universal cable networks showing the Games are reporting 84 million average viewers, a 29% increase from Athens in 2004.
Having that many viewers to promote material to doesn’t guarantee success, however. The 2004 Athens Games allowed NBC to focus heavily on “Father of the Pride” and “Joey.” The network, hoping to ride the Olympic wave, debuted all five of its new series within two weeks of Athens’ Closing Ceremony.
“Pride” premiered two days after the ceremony to a solid 5.4/15 rating. By the end of its run in December, “Pride’s” audience had dropped 67%.
Despite the promotional push during the Olympics, all five shows that debuted in the fall of 2004, including “LAX,” “Hawaii” and “Medical Investigation,” floundered.
This year, NBC appears to be pacing itself, with a majority of its premieres popping near the end of September.
Currently, ratings for the prime-time coverage through 14 days of the Beijing Games are running 2% ahead of the 2004 Athens Games in the 18- to 49-year-old demographic, with an average 9.2 rating/27 share.

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