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Record users online and on TV during Olympics

More than 17.7 million people watched streaming video of an Olympic event on their computer or cell phone during the first five days of the Beijing Games.

That’s a 705 percent increase from video streaming that occurred during the entire 17 days of the 2004 Athens Summer Games, which saw 2.2 million Web video users in total.

Significant to the network, however, is that NBC’s primetime television coverage is also a hit, and the Internet usage is helping drive the audience. It’s become clear, according to one NBC source, that the Internet is not cannibalizing the audience for the network. Instead it appears to be fueling interest and driving people to the network’s primetime schedule.

However, the relationship with viewers has not been totally smooth. NBC is holding off placing some content on the Web until after it has aired on broadcast television. The West Coast audience has been especially frustrated by the tape delay that’s prevented them from viewing major swimming events until several hours after they occurred.

Preliminary ratings data on the Games indicates the network may have been too cautious in holding back the content from the Internet. Half of the online users want to catch up with events they may have missed. Another 40 percent want to replay something they first saw on TV.

For example, 81 million people watched the men’s 4 x 100 swimming relay on television, and another 1.7 million watched it later on the Web, the “New York Times” reported.

Even active Internet users are also watching the Olympics on television. NBC’s nightly survey found that 90 percent of people who follow the Olympics watched it only on television. The other 10 percent also used the Internet, mobile phones or video-on-demand services from cable. But only two-tenths of 1 percent exclusively use the Internet to follow the Olympics and don’t watch television.