The London Olympics drew better ratings than the 2008 games in Beijing, making them the most watched television event in U.S. history, NBC said.
Total viewership topped the 215 million that tuned in to the Beijing broadcast four years ago, Greg Hughes, a spokesman for Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal division, said in an e-mail.
The performances of American athletes, who won a world-best 46 gold medals and 104 total, helped drive ratings, said Andy Donchin, director of media investments for Carat North America, an advertising firm. Despite criticism over tape-delaying marquee events, including Michael Phelps’s four gold-medal swims and Gabby Douglas’s first-place performance in the women’s gymnastics all-around, NBC successfully persuaded audiences to tune in several hours after the competitions took place.
“In a way, knowing Michael Phelps or Gabby Douglas won a medal may make you watch even more,” said Donchin, who is based in New York. “Even tape delayed, you still want to see it.”
The better-than-expected ratings mean that the broadcaster may turn a profit on the Games, NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus said during a conference call earlier this month. NBC had previously forecast a loss of about $200 million. The network won’t know if it made money on the event for “several weeks” as it completes its accounting, Greg Hughes, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail.
Advertisers are “very, very happy” with the ratings, Donchin said, a testament to event-based television when it comes to drawing large audiences.
“The main sponsors -- McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, P&G -- this only encourages them to continue their investment,” Donchin said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see several companies that ran commercials during the games to step up and become sponsors the next time around.”
NBC, which paid $1.18 billion for the rights to the London Olympics, had initially projected lower ratings versus the Beijing games. The network provided live online coverage of every Olympic event for the first time. Users needed to show that they were a pay-TV subscriber to get access.
Comcast, the cable-TV provider based in Philadelphia, acquired control of NBCUniversal for $13.8 billion in January 2011. The business, which includes TV, film and theme-park units, contributed about 36 percent of Comcast’s sales in the second quarter.
“The ratings from day one exceeded everyone’s expectations,” said Todd Gordon, managing director of Magna Global, the media buying arm of advertising holding company Interpublic Group of Cos. “The ratings were up so much for Beijing I think people really assumed that beating those ratings weren’t going to be realistic. To exceed those numbers consistently throughout the games was pretty extraordinary.”
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