Ratings success for games: NBC set to top Sydney numbers

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NBC Universal has declared victory in the Olympic Games. Its coverage on cable and broadcast networks delivered more viewers than past games and challenged broadcast TV's shrinking-audience trend.

NBC Network's 14-day prime-time average during the Athens Games is 25.6 million viewers, up 13% from the 2000 Sydney Olympics' 22.6 million.

By Aug. 26, the 14th day of the games, 196 million viewers, or 71% of U.S. population, had watched coverage on NBC and its cable siblings-USA, CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo and Telemundo-according to Nielsen Media Research. Final numbers are due today.

Randy Falco, group president NBC Television Network, said his initial reaction to the numbers was "giddy." Speaking from Athens, he added: "We don't have any make-goods. Every advertiser is feeling very smart having gotten involved when things were very controversial."

High rating figures helped generate an additional $20 million to $30 million in ad revenue from movie studios and retailers that came in late to take advantage of the positive numbers (AA, Aug. 23). The network estimates it had already taken around $1 billion before the games began.

Competitors point out that NBC dropped some network breaks at crucial times in order to keep viewers glued to the screen and thus boost ratings further.

The positive ratings have also had a halo affect on NBC's other properties. The network's strategy of offering limited cable coverage of the games helped create added interest in the prime-time broadcast. The games also helped increase viewing on morning show "Today" and syndicated entertainment show "Access Hollywood." Both shows carried extensive Olympic coverage.

Mr. Falco and his team are already turning their attention to the 2006 winter games in Turin, Italy and 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing.

"I want to experiment with new technology," said Mr. Falco. "We're going to try and expand coverage on wireless platforms and get into broadband subscription. That's the way we expand the revenue."

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