Very, apparently. Steve Springer, the Los Angeles Times‘ “On the Media” columnist, offers a variety of increasingly complex metrics to prove that the Beijing Olympics “were watched by more Americans than any event in U.S. television history.” 214 million different Americans to be exact, according to NBC spokesman Adam Freifeld. This number includes all the platforms.
Some comparisons: Roots, the highest-rated miniseries of all-time, had a total of 660 million viewers, but most watched every night, leaving the total number of different viewers well short of the Olympic number. Similarly, 266.5 million people watched the 1982 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers (why?), but again, most of those were repeat viewers.
Ratings, however, were a different story. While the Beijing Games faired better than both the 2000 Games in Sydney and the 2004 Games in Athens, Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996) topped the recently concluded contests.
NBC owns the rights to the 2010 and 2012 Olympics in Vancouver and London, respectively, and it will be interesting to see how the company capitalizes on the relative success of these Games. The Peacock did some things right (the streaming video on the Web site was generally solid), but it failed to understand the true opportunities provided by the proliferation of high-speed Internet. We should not be going to YouTube 30 seconds after Usain Bolt wins the 100m to watch it. In a world this fast, sports need to be live or else we will turn elsewhere. Are you listening, Dick Ebersol? We’re available for a very reasonable consulting fee.
Regardless, we’re pleased we won’t have to write another post about the Olympics for at least 12 months.