Skip to main content

Michael Phelps leads NBC to Olympic ratings victory

With Michael Phelps successful in winning his eight gold medals and the swimming competition now over, it’s hard to see how NBC can exceed its soaring ratings for the Olympic Games. The network said the Beijing games are on pace to be the most-watched Olympics ever.

The games averaged 30 million prime-time TV viewers during its first eight nights and NBC Universal said it had earned more than $10 million since the Beijing telecasts began from new advertisers eager to climb onboard. That’s in addition to the $1 billion in advertising sales NBC said it contracted for with advertisers before the Olympics began.

The AP reported that the games provided the first real sign that broadcast television could recover from the debilitating writer’s strike of last winter and produce an event that draws the nation together. “Broadcast is not dead, despite reports to the contrary,’’ Brian Hughes, researcher for the ad buying firm Magna, told the AP.

NBC convinced Olympics officials to start the swimming competition early, so it could be aired live in prime time in Eastern Standard Time, and built the network’s battle plan around Phelps’ attempt to make Olympic history. It worked, with two of Phelps’ races offering viewers heart-stopping finishes.

Even NBC’s failure to keep video of the opening ceremony off the Internet before it could be televised on 12-hour tape delay seemed to build excitement. It resulted in an audience of 34 million people for the opening-night festivities.

NBC’s prime time will have fewer live events during the remainder of the games, removing much of the element of suspense. Total viewers for the 10 days of the Olympics so far has averaged 29.8 million, or 14 percent better than Athens in 2004, when 26.2 million viewers watched. That’s a significant achievement because viewers now have far more viewing options than previously. The Sydney games in 2000 captured an average of 21.5 million.

NBC also released results of a Nielsen IAG study on the value of Olympics advertising. It said brand recall of TV commercials in the Olympics reached levels that were 130 percent higher than those during other prime-time programs. Message recall in the Olympics was more than twice as high as that during other prime-time programs. TV commercial likeability in the Olympics was nearly three times as high as during other prime-time programs.