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Nielsen: Record 143 Million Americans View Olympics’ First Days

According to Nielsen Media Research, about 107 million Americans watched at least part of Sunday’s coverage of the summer games in Beijing, much of it airing live, and nearly half of all Americans (143 million) watched portions of the first 72 hours of coverage, which began on Friday. Virtually all coverage is being presented in HD, although it’s not clear what proportion of the various audiences is watching in the advanced format.

NBC Universal, whose affiliates transmit in 1080i, said Aug. 10 was the highest-rated Sunday in Olympics history for the summer games, counting all the NBCU networks that are sharing in coverage: NBC Television, MSNBC, CNBC, USA Network and Telemundo.

Big screen technology garnered a lot of attention at the opening ceremonies on Friday night, which by some estimates drew nearly 4 billion viewers worldwide, making it one of the most viewed television events in history. At the center of the “bird’s nest”—the site of the event, was what was touted as one of the world’s largest LED screens—measuring 480x72 feet with 44,000 LED beads.

While in recent days some controversy has arisen over the ceremonies—namely the inclusion of digitally enhanced fireworks in one segment and a Chinese girl lip-syncing the voice of another young girl who was deemed by government authorities as not sufficiently attractive to represent China on television—at press time nothing controversial had been raised about the competition side of the games itself. An estimated peak of about 81 million watched in primetime as Michael Phelps and the rest of his freestyle relay team won gold on Sunday night, according to Nielsen.

Beyond its precedent-setting HD coverage, NBCU is also maintaining a busy Web site dedicated to streaming scores of its Olympics features. On Monday, it said more than a million PC “viewers” had streamed the Phelps relay race within the first 24 hours.