Viewership boosted by online platforms

The Intl. Olympic Committee is poised to award itself a gold medal for coordinating record-breaking coverage of the Beijing Games — set to be the most watched in the event’s 112-year history.

“We expect a global reach of approximately 4.5 billion people” tuning in on TV and online, IOC TV and marketing services director Timo Lumme told a Beijing news conference Thursday.

He said viewership had been given a major boost by online platforms.

“In China alone, during the first 12 days of competition, more than 102 million people watched the Games live online, with another 146 million people watching online video-on-demand or delayed online coverage,” Lumme said.

He said the IOC had launched its own online channels to broadcast the Games, reaching 77 territories across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Effort marks the first time the IOC has produced footage directly available to the public.

For the IOC, the spectacular viewership data will vindicate its decision to award the Games to China, despite concerns over the country’s human-rights record.

The Opening Ceremony on Aug. 8 was the highest-rated sports-related broadcast in China, with a record 840 million viewers, and final figures are expected to show that more than 1.2 billion people worldwide tuned in.

Viewing figures in key regions, including the U.S., were promising and would eclipse records set at the Athens 2004 Olympics, the IOC said.

NBC, which paid nearly $900 million for exclusive rights to the Games, chalked up 40 million viewers, its largest Saturday-night audience in 18 years, when it broadcast swimmer Michael Phelps winning his record-breaking eighth Olympic gold medal.

Significantly, the Beijing Games were tipped to exceed overall U.S. ratings for the 1996 Atlanta Games, which were broadcast at times much more suitable for American auds.

Viewers in Blighty also played their part, as they tuned into see the U.K.’s biggest gold medal haul in a century, while viewers in India cheered on their country’s first individual gold.

Lumme said there was an unprecedented amount of Olympic sports content available, with some 5,000 hours of coverage provided by 200 countries through rights-holding broadcast partners.

By the end of the Beijing Games, three times more TV and online material will have been broadcast than at the Athens Games.

The average Olympics viewer is graying rapidly, and in a bid to encourage a younger aud, the IOC introduced an Olympic channel on YouTube showing daily clips.

Lumme said the use of the Internet for Games broadcasts had been a big success, with the NBColympics.com website alone recording viewings of 22 million clips, 30 times more video views than for Athens.

The IOC earned $2.6 billion from the Winter Games in Turin in 2006 and the Beijing event. That figure should jump to about $3.9 billion for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games and the 2012 London Summer Games.

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