NBC Enjoys Victory Lap at Olympics

NEW YORK Long before the closing ceremonies in Beijing, NBC brass were feeling like Michael Phelps, as the network’s $894 million multiplatform Olympics gamble paid off beyond its wildest expectations.

The 2008 Games stand as the most-watched TV event in history. Through Aug. 20, 206 million viewers had watched NBC Universal’s coverage, closing in on the record set by the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta (209 million). NBC averaged 27.8 million viewers in prime time, a 10 percent jump over 2004, and exceeded its guarantees, which media buyers pegged at 14.5, by more than 10 percent. Since the Games began on Aug. 8, NBC booked another $30 million in ad revenue, said NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel — a tidy addition to the $1 billion that the network had already brought in before the opening ceremonies began.

The NBCU cable nets also churned up big numbers with their coverage of niche events, and NBCOlympics.com had 46.2 million unique users through Aug. 21 and generated 65 million streams — a stunning 8 million hours of total viewing.

“It’s been a cultural phenomenon,” said Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development at NBC Universal. “I can’t think of another instance where the country so universally gets behind an event and shares it like they have with Beijing, not with the widespread fragmentation we see today.”