The 1994 Winter Olympic Games from Lillehammer, Norway, have made television history, lifting CBS to the network’s highest-rated week ever.
With the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan caper focusing unprecedented attention on the Winter Games, CBS’ Feb. 14-20 primetime Nielsen results (a 25.9 rating, 40 share) topped all weeklong averages for all networks since ABC soared to a 32 .1/46 on “Winds of War,” the week of Feb. 7-13, 1983.
Remarkably, these stratospheric Olympic numbers all came before Harding and Kerrigan even began competing in Lillehammer. With their performances coming Wednesday night and Friday (with possible exhibitions on Saturday if either wins a medal), CBS’ Olympic numbers for the current week could go even higher.
The Eye network said its previous highest-rated week came Jan. 5-11, 1976, when its regular schedule earned a 24.7/39.
Last week’s 25.9 rating is particularly astounding considering how network numbers have eroded during the past 15 years in the face of increasing competition.
“Home Improvement,” primetime’s top-rated series, has only once in its history achieved a rating as high as what CBS averaged last week in sweeping all 44 half-hours of primetime.
There’s only been one World Series in the past 11 years as high-rated as last week’s Olympic figures, and there apparently has never been a basketball game as high-rated as what CBS averaged over 22 hours last week.
And pity the competition. NBC got knocked down to the lowest regular-season weeklong share (14) for any network since atleast the early days of television, and ABC fell to what would have equaled the record-low share (16) had NBC not done even worse last week. Fox Broadcasting Co. was far more successful at counterprogramming the Olympics, actually improving last week by 0.1 rating points over its season-to-date average, thanks in part to the Games’ weaker appeal among Fox’s core audience of urban teens and young adults.
Compared to their season-to-date averages, ABC and NBC were down by 17% and 22%, respectively, last week.
CBS’ breakthrough week has made a shambles of what was previously a close race for the season-long Nielsen crown. Two weeks ago CBS was ahead of ABC for the season by just 0.4 rating points, but after nine nights of Olympic coverage, CBS’ lead has more than tripled, to 1.3 rating points.
CBS will also coast to one of the easiest February sweeps victories in television history. With eight nights still left to count in the 28-night period , the sweeps averages are: CBS, 20.5/32; ABC, 11.7/18; NBC, 10.6/16; Fox, 7.6/12 .
Even with ABC and NBC left in the starting gates last week, it was the highest three-network combined rating in five years, since CBS aired “Lonesome Dove” the week of Feb. 6-12, 1989.
Other stats generated during this banner week for the Olympics:
o It’s apparently the widest weeklong margin of victory for any net since ABC’s coverage of the Summer Olympics brought that web a 25.2/45 (compared to second-place NBC’s 9.3/16) during the week of July 30-Aug. 5, 1984, when the games were in L.A.
- As of Tuesday this week, ratings for the Lillehammer games are running 38% ahead of those for the ’92 Albertville games.
- CBS Research estimates 170 million Americans have watched at least some of the Lillehammer coverage.
- Measured by numbers of households (a standard that inflates consistently as the population increases), CBS can now boast the seven highest-scoring nights of Olympic coverage ever.
- Every one of last week’s Olympic broadcasts was higher-rated than every other program aired during the week, except for CBS’ one non-Olympic telecast, ” 60 Minutes” (which tied with the net’s lowest Olympic night). Nothing on the competing webs finished closer than 3 rating points behind CBS’ lowest-ranking programs of the week.
- CBS won every half-hour of the week, something not otherwise accomplished since NBC did it with the Barcelona Summer Games, July 27-Aug. 2, 1992.
- CBS says that, unlike previous Winter Games telecasts, its coverage this year is faring as well in Sun Belt cities as in Ice Belt cities.
The Olympics is dominating all adult demographic groups. In the important adults 18-49 breakout, CBS came close to equaling the combined score of all three competitors. Those averages were: CBS, 15.1/36; ABC, 6.3/15; NBC, 5.3/13; Fox, 5.1/12.
On Tuesday of this week CBS slipped to its lowest Olympic rating in six nights (24.9/36) but still finished a staggering 57% ahead of the comparable night during the ’92 Winter Games.
NBC couldn’t get out of third despite its “Jackson Family Honors” spec (11.4/ 17).
Fox continues to handily counterprogram the Olympics, earning its best Tuesday rating ever with an “Encounters” UFO spec (7.3/11) and a pair of “Cops” episodes (5.5/8 and 6.1/9).
The Olympics delivered CBS’ highest Monday numbers (28.4/42) since the final episode of “MASH” earned a 60.3/77 Feb. 28, 1983. The Torvill and Dean ice dancing performance and its controversial judging helped CBS’ nightlong rating top the comparable night of the Albertville games by 24%.
CBS’ numbers shot into the stratosphere once again, this time hitting the fourth-highest rating ever for a night of Olympics coverage. Compared to ’92 Albertville figures, CBS was up by 38% for the night. During the one hour of the week CBS was not televising the Lillehammer games, NBC jumped on the bandwagon with a Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan spec that managed to top the season average of slot regular “I Witness Video” by 9%. As CBS notes, the country’s Winter Olympic interest clearly extends far beyond simply the Harding-Kerrigan fracas, since CBS’ coverage of other events has averaged more than three times the audience of the NBC special.
Men’s skating and the women’s downhill propelled CBS to its highest Saturday marks in 12 years, since Jan. 16, 1982 (“Walt Disney” and the vidpic “Help Wanted: Male”).
Fox once again weathered CBS’ Olympic barrage with considerably greater success than the network competition. Running second for all four of its half-hours, Fox rose to the silver-medal position on a Saturday for the first time since last Aug. 15.
The Olympics broke ABC’s 16-week Friday winning streak, as the Alphabet web slipped to its lowest Friday share since last Aug. 27.
Compared to ’92, this night’s Olympics coverage was up by a breathtaking 65%. It was CBS’ highest Friday rating since Jan. 23, 1981, just two months after the huge ratings boost of the “Who Shot J.R.””Dallas” episode.
Against CBS’ Olympian heights, ratings for NBC’s second “Hart to Hart” sunk by 33% compared to the first “Hart” revival-vidpic last Nov. 5.
CBS hadn’t soared this high on a Thursday since Feb. 28, 1980 (“The Waltons” and an episode of the “Scruples” mini). Compared to the same Olympic Thursday in ’92, CBS was up this night by 36%.
It was CBS’ best Wednesday since Feb. 19, 1992, the second Wednesday of the Albertville games. Compared to ’92’s first-week Wednesday, CBS was up by 37%.
ABC’s “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit ’94” revealed some fairly skimpy numbers against the Olympics, but held onto more of ABC’s 9-10 p.m. figures than any show in that slot in six weeks.
A “Home Improvement” rerun equaled that series’ biggest timeslot loss since the Barcelona Olympics but also finished the closest behind the Lillehammer Games of any show aired against the Olympics so far.
“Grace Under Fire” followed by holding 90% of its “Improvement” lead-in rating, “Grace’s” best retention yet.
The Olympics glided to CBS’ best Tuesday average in nearly 10 years, since Feb. 28, 1984 (“The Grammys”). Compared to ’92, the games were up by 25% this night.
Against the Lillehammer competition, “Roseanne” lost its slot for the first time in 29 airings and Fox’s “Front Page” crumpled to the weblet’s worst regular-series firstrun share for any program since “Molloy” also settled for a 4 share back on Aug. 8, 1990.
The Olympics won while “Point Break” pulled Fox out of fourth for the first time ever on a regular-season Monday (Daily Variety, Feb. 16).
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.