Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White and Shani Davis are the true American idols.
With the trio leading a record haul of six medals for the Americans, NBC's telecast of the Olympics clobbered Fox's "American Idol" in television ratings Wednesday night.
During the hour that the two shows went head-to-head, the Olympics were seen by 30.1 million people while 18.4 million watched "American Idol," the Nielsen Co. said.
It was the first time any show has beaten "American Idol" since May 2004, when a special Monday edition was topped by NBC's "Fear Factor." With the exception of one "Idol Gives Back" special in 2008, it was the least-seen episode of "American Idol" since 2003.
Even before the Olympics started, NBC was referring to the night as its "white hot Wednesday." The network heavily promoted Vonn, White and Davis leading to the games, and each won a gold medal.
Still, it was a startling turnaround from just the night before, when "Idol" beat the Olympics by nearly 4 million viewers.
"If anything, it's a testimony to the power of network television," said Marc Berman, an analyst for Media Week. "You had two shows in one hour reaching about 50 million people."
Fox had no comment on the ratings, although its executives pointed out privately that 18 million viewers still puts it in the top tier of entertainment programs broadcast this year.
"This is very good news for NBC," Berman said. "Anyone who may think that 'American Idol' is in trouble, it's not in trouble. It faced the Olympics."
Both Davis and White competed live on television in East Coast time zones. It was the first competition in the games for White, a star who transcends his sport of halfpipe. NBC whetted viewers' appetites by showing him in preliminary competition just as NBC's prime-time show began Wednesday.
Vonn's downhill was earlier in the day, and NBC withheld it until prime time. Berman said he believed knowledge of her victory had spread, bringing more viewers to see the highlights in prime time. It was a best-case scenario for NBC, which worried as the Olympics were starting that a shin injury would keep Vonn from the competition altogether.
For all of prime time, NBC's Olympics competition was seen by 29.4 million people, Nielsen said. The corresponding Wednesday four years ago in Turin, Italy, brought 17.8 million viewers to NBC.
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