The Kids Are All Right

Rash Report: But More Boys Watching Beijing Games Compared to Athens

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MINNEAPOLIS ( -- Wanna feel old? Lie on the couch and watch the athletic -- and emotional -- exuberance of the world's fastest man and woman, Jamaican jets Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser, whose celebrations were workouts in their own right.
Jamaican jets Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser
Jamaican jets Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser Credit: AP

Want them to feel old? Just remind them that the International Olympic Committee announced last year that starting in 2010 there will be a Youth Olympic Summer Games, followed by a Youth Olympic Winter Games in 2012. Intended for athletes aged 14-18 (will the Chinese women's gymnastics team qualify by then?), the Youth Olympic Games "will bring together talented athletes from around the world to participate in high-level competitions and lead them on their way to becoming true Olympians," according to the IOC.

IOC tries to keep up with times
What isn't said is they're also an attempt to make sure "Guitar Hero" doesn't supplant Olympic heroes in the eyes of the world's youth, as the Olympic movement not only depends on the world's youth to participate, but to watch as well.

The Youth Olympic Games may be a good idea, even if they draw just a few kids away from gaming and into a game, considering worldwide obesity rates. But as far as Olympic viewing is concerned, the kids are all right, at least by modern media standards: Through the first 11 days of the games, viewing by kids 2-11 is about equal with the first 11 days of the 2004 Athens games, and down a slight 4% for teens. Considering the technological transformations the MySpace generation has seen over just four short years, these are impressive numbers, and indicate that many kids have caught Olympic fever from their parents, whose viewing is up even more.

But in a surprising twist, the twists and turns of gymnastics, which in 2004 gave teenage girls 16% higher ratings (and their younger 2-11 sisters a 20% lift), haven't been as much a magnet this year for girls. Indeed, the trend has been reversed, as boys 2-11 are up 12% from Athens and teenage boys have jumped 10%.

Perhaps it's the pool replacing the pommel horse as the center of action, as boy next door Michael Phelps and his fellow relay racers engaged in trash-talking with the French swim team, giving the sport swagger it usually lacks. Or maybe it was how late the gymnastics competition ran, particularly in the Eastern time zone, which made staying awake an Olympian feat in its own right.

BMX biking has been made part of the Beijing games (as well as Tuesday's and Wednesday's telecasts) as the IOC tries to keep up with changing youth culture -- just as it did with snowboarding. It's doubtful, however, that it's enough to bring back youth viewing to levels of a generation ago, as kids 2-11 are down 45% from Barcelona in 1992 and teens have halved since those days. But with BMX having more relevance and resonance with many (mostly Western) young people than the hammer throw, it can't hurt.

As for Tuesday, teens and nearly every other demo continued to turn out to watch the world's best, with the 9.1/26 rating and share in the ad-centric adult 18-49 demographic up 2% from Monday night. But the demo delivery was demonstrably down from the peak performance of last Tuesday, indexing at 73%. Which isn't surprising, considering last Tuesday's two gold medal performances from Phelps.

Tuesday's teen and kid numbers were also solid -- and more gender-balanced than recent averages. The teen rating and share was a 4.4/16, with boys delivering a 4.3/16 and girls a 4.4/16. Meanwhile, kids, boys and girls delivered a 2.9/13. Comparatively, the youth movement on the CW posted a .3/1 for both teenage girls and boys.

Olympics still rule the airwaves
In adults 18-49 the Olympics sprinted past every other network and program handily, again. ABC and CBS tied for second with a 1.6/4, as ABC ran "Wipeout" (2.0/6), "Wanna Bet?" (1.2/3) and "Primetime: Medical Mysteries" (1.5/4). CBS countered with "NCIS" (1.4/4), "Big Brother" (2.1/6) and "Without a Trace" (1.1/3).

Fox was third and the CW fourth with a 1.1/3 and .3/1, respectively, as Fox ran drama reruns ("House," 1.2/4 and "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," .9/2) and the CW opted for a reality rerun ("Beauty and the Geek," .3/1) and a "Reaper" repeat (.4/1).

Beyond BMX, Wednesday night is yet another chance for the world's best athletes to mesmerize with memorable moments, including Bolt running in the 200-meter finals. No doubt many kids and teens will tune in, too. But somewhere out there, one may tune out, lace up and bolt out of the house, with dreams of the Youth Olympic Games in 2010. Or, even, the 2012 track in London.

Wednesday: Olympics fever? The gold medal is at stake on the golden sands of beach volleyball as Americans Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor take on the home team's top seeds Tian Jia and Wang Jie.
Olympics fatigue? Take a break from the tough guys in macho sports like the hammer throw for, well, tough guy Edward G. Robinson in "Little Caesar" and "Key Largo" on a TCM double feature.
Thursday: Olympics fever? Sand and water, as it's the men's turn in the sand for a gold medal and the finals of the 10-meter platform diving take place in the "Water Cube."
Olympics fatigue? Maybe it's time to take a break from world sport and watch football (no, not futbol) as the San Francisco 49ers play the Chicago Bears on Fox.

A new star emerging in the men's 110-meter hurdles with Olympic (and fan) favorite Liu Xiang out hurt.

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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)

John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see
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