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International: Olympics TV viewership tops previous games

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International: Olympics TV viewership tops previous games

The stands of the Olympic stadiums in Athens might not be full, but the sofas are. NBC's coverage of the 2004 Summer Olympics already has exceeded early viewership levels of the 2000 Games held in Sydney by 15 million viewers.

Matching 1996 levels

NBC said it had the highest-rated half hour of Olympic broadcasting since the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. For the 11-11:30 p.m. slot last night, the network gained a 20.8 rating and a 38 share, according to the network, which was airing mens' 4 x 200-meter swimming relay and women's gymnastics. Just-released Nielsen ratings obtained by advertising media agencies show that NBC recorded an 18.2 rating and a 30 share overall for the fifth day of Olympics coverage.

For the previous four days of Olympics coverage, the network attracted 142 million viewers, while the same four-day period for the 2000 Summer Games in Australia, which were held in September when broadcast TV viewership is typically higher, were watched by 127 million viewers.

A share is a percentage of television households that have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all TV households, whether or not their sets are turned on. (For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. households with TV.)

Overall NBC, part of General Electric Co., for these games has delivered a 14.6 household rating in prime time, with days three and four exceeding the network's guaranteed 15.3 household rating to advertisers.

AT&T 'quite happy'

Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer at WPP Group's Mediaedge:cia, bought Olympic packages for marketers including AT&T and AT&T Wireless. "We are quite happy with the performance to date. It has surpassed Sydney and also delivered some impressive demos," Mr. Scanzoni said. "We have a ways to go, but the first few days are usually indicative."

Monday night's coverage, which included the men's gymnastics team final and the Michael Phelps-Ian Thorpe face-off in the 200-meter freestyle swimming event, earned a 16.6 national rating, or a 27 household share. According to an NBC statement released this morning, that figure is already better than any of the 17 days from Sydney.

Friday night's opening ceremony garnered a 14.6 rating/27 household share, though Saturday's prime-time household viewership dropped sharply to an 11.8 rating/23 share, leading some to predict the games would be a washout. But viewers returned on Sunday night, which was up to a 15.4 rating /26 share, and Monday's strong performance boosted the four-day average.

Favorable demographics

Roy Rothstein, vice president and director of national broadcast research at Publicis Groupe's Zenith Media, pointed to some extremely positive figures from an advertisers' perspective: Compared with Sydney, the 18- to 34-year-old demographic was up 13%, while the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49 age group was up 5% for the first three days (excluding the opening ceremony). Additionally, weekend viewing was split evenly between men and women, he said. "The cross promotion [on other NBC-owned cable networks] is really reminding people of the other coverage," Mr. Rothstein added.

Better production values

Shari Anne Brill, vice president and director of programming at Aegis Group's Carat, attributed the audience increase to a number of factors, including better production values and improved technology, such as underwater camera angles during the swim meets and close-ups of gymnasts' facial expressions -- not to mention the bikini-clad beach volleyball players. Ms. Brill also pointed to early media coverage of swimmer Michael Phelps' quest for eight medals and the ups and downs of the once-dominant U.S. men's basketball team as having boosted audience interest.

But Ms. Brill cautioned against reading too much into early viewership figures. "The games don't end until Aug. 29. A lot will depend on whether the U.S. stays in the medal contention or if there's a really good scandal."

NBC also noted that its Olympic coverage on its four cable platforms -- Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC and USA -- have attracted 32 million viewers over the four days. (NBC is also showing events on Telemundo but has not released ratings figures for the Spanish-language network.)

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