The Winter Olympics are finally over, but the competition won’t soon forget CBS’ gold-medal Nielsen blitz, unprecedented in television history.
CBS finished the second full week of its Lillehammer Olympics coverage with the most lopsided victory in primetime Nielsen history, more than tripling the average rating of last week’s second-place network, ABC.
It was also the first time a network has beaten the combined scores of the two competing networks plus Fox Broadcasting Co. In addition, for a second week in a row, CBS rose to its highest weeklong rating since such records have been kept, while the three networks combined for their highest aggregate rating (50.0 ) since the week of Feb. 16-22, 1987.
Overall, the Lillehammer games are the highest-rated Olympics in U.S. television history. The 16-night primetime average, a 27.8 rating, 42 share, handily tops the best-rated Summer and Winter Games of recent years: the ’84 L.A. Summer Olympics rated (25.0/45) and the ’80 Lake Placid Winter Games (23.7/ 37). This year’s Lillehammer coverage topped 1992’s Winter Games from Albertville, France (18.7/29) by 49%.
The key ingredient was certainly figure skating, and specifically the attention surrounding Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. When those two skaters competed last week, CBS reaped the highest Wednesday and Friday ratings for any network.
Those Olympian heights have made a shambles of both the February-sweeps and regular-season ratings races.
CBS’ season-to-date lead, just 0.4 rating points before the Olympics began, has quintupled to an insurmountable 2.1 points. With just seven weeks left to count in the September-April season, CBS is now assured a wide margin of victory. No network has won a season by more than 1.7 points since 1988-89 (when NBC won by 2.8 points) and CBS hasn’t done it since 1973-74.
CBS is also headed toward what is probably the most lopsided sweeps victory in history. With two nights left to count in the 28-night February survey, averages through Monday this week are CBS, 22.6/34; ABC, 11.2/17; NBC, 10.4/16; Fox, 7.6/11.
The Olympics’ appeal to young adults was strong enough to erase CBS’ seasonlong deficit in the desirable adults 18-49 demographic, which ABC and NBC stress and CBS downplays in favor of the 25-54 audience segment. After two weeks of huge Olympic numbers, CBS is now tied with ABC season-to-date among adults 18 -49.
Last week CBS beat the competition’s combined results in that important demo. The averages were: CBS, 18.1/41; NBC, 6.2/14; ABC, 5.6/13; Fox, 5.1/12. For the sweeps, CBS now has a 12.6 rating among adults 18-49, compared to ABC’s 6.7, NBC’s 6.5 and Fox’s 5.4.
Fox had the most luck countering the Olympics competition. Compared to its season-to-date average before the Lillehammer coverage, Fox actually improved by 3% during the Olympics, while NBC was down by 19% and ABC by 20%. On Olympic nights, CBS more than doubled its season average, enjoying a 114% ratings increase. For the two full weeks of the Lillehammer games, all 16 CBS telecasts beat every program on ABC, NBC and Fox by at least 3.0 rating points.
The Olympics also helped CBS grab the Nielsen gold in the evening news race for the first time since Aug. 24-28, 1992, when Hurricane Andrew struck. Before CBS’ rally last week, ABC had won 76 weeks in a row and 226 of the last 229.
CBS also notes that in the 30 markets metered by Nielsen, local news ratings in post-Olympics timeslots last week were up an average 80% compared to the four weeks before the Olympics.
Things returned to relative normalcy on Monday of the current week; CBS swept the night, making it 108 straight primetime half-hours won by CBS. Still, it’s questionable whether CBS’ regular lineup will enjoy any post-Olympics boost, since Monday’s CBS schedule averaged a 15.3/24, which is precisely what the net averaged for the five Mondays before the Olympics.
ABC’s hopes for a late-sweeps rally went up in smoke thanks to “Heaven and Hell.” Part two of the “North & South” sequel averaged a hellish 9.8/15 on Monday of this week, after Sunday’s 10.1/15 qualified as the second-worst-rated first episode of a firstrun, regular-season miniseries in at least 12 years.
The only lower-rated first episode during that period also came from ABC this season during a sweeps month –“JFK: Reckless Youth” (7.8/12) last November.
The incredible Olympic numbers carried through to the very end, with CBS’ closing-night coverage beating the comparable Albertville broadcast by 71%.
The very last half-hour (which included a lengthy credits segment) still ran 4 shares ahead of its closest competitor, NBC’s Steven Seagal actioner “Out for Justice.” Never, during any of the 96 primetime half-hours of Lillehammer coverage, did a competing program come closer to beating the Olympics.
Relatively speaking, this was an off-night for CBS, equaling the net’s lowest Olympic rating in 12 nights. Nevertheless, it was the Eye web’s second-highest-rated Saturday since Jan. 16, 1982.
The finals of the women’s figure skating couldn’t equal Wednesday’s prelims, but they still earned the second-best rating ever for a U.S. Olympics broadcast. It also was the 30th-highest-rated program since 1960 (tied with “Roots, Part 2, ” which aired Jan. 24, 1977).
An estimated 119 million viewers watched at least some of the night’s coverage, making it the sixth-most-watched telecast in U.S. TV history by that measure, one that discriminates against older shows because the population was significantly smaller in TV’s earlier days.
Before this big night, the two previous highest-rated Fridays in U.S. TV history appear to be Feb. 11, 1983 on ABC (“Winds of War, Part 6”) and Nov. 21, 1980 on CBS (the night of the “Who Shot J.R.?” episode of “Dallas”), bothof which achieved a 35.2 rating.
It was NBC’s lowest-rated Friday since last Christmas Eve, Fox’s lowest since last Aug. 13 and ABC’s lowest since Aug. 7, 1992, during the Barcelona Summer Games.
Compared to the night of the women’s skating finals at Albertville, last Friday’s figures were up by 76%.
CBS swept the night’s half-hours despite finishing with less than half the audience of the previous night’s record skating numbers. Compared to the ’92 Winter Games, CBS was up by 50%.
Fox’s extra “The Simpsons” and special “Living Single” boosted the weblet to its second-best Thursday rating in 13 weeks.
The first Kerrigan-Harding competition brought the highest rating ever for Olympic coverage in the U.S. (Daily Variety, Feb. 25), the highest Wednesday rating for any network ever and the highest-rated telecast of any type in nearly 11 years, since the Feb. 28, 1983 final episode of “MASH” (60.3/77, the highest-rated program since 1960).
That since-1960 list shows no other sport besides pro football making the top 75, but the Winter Olympics — led by figure skating — has now made the list twice. Wednesday’s rating beat all but two Super Bowls.
An estimated 127 million viewers watched at least some of last Wednesday’s Olympics, putting it fourth on that all-time list. The 1992 to ’94 comparison showed CBS more than doubling its Albertville numbers, up by 113%.
ABC fell to its worst Wednesday rating since last Aug. 18 and NBC to its worst since Aug. 17, 1988, during the Republican National Convention.
Despite earning NBC’s best Tuesday 9-11 p.m. marks since Nov. 30, “The Jackson Family Honors” did little to slow down CBS’ Olympic express.
Fox again thumbed its nose at the Olympics competition, grabbing its highest Tuesday rating ever (Daily Variety, Feb. 24). The “Encounters” UFO spec discovered Fox’s best rating ever in the night’s 9 p.m. hour.
CBS posted its highest Monday rating since the “MASH” finale (Daily Variety, Feb. 24).
Each rating point represents an estimated 942,000 households, or 1% of the country’s TV homes. The share is the same sort of percentage, except that it’s measured against only the households in which TV is being watched during the timeslot involved.