NBC flies to Olympian heights

Games give network its best week in years

NBC captured the gold, silver and bronze medals for ratings last week, with the first three nights of Summer Olympics coverage giving the Peacock its biggest frame in 2½ years.

This year’s Beijing Games continue to outpace recent Summer Olympics, bolstered by record-setting American swimmer Michael Phelps. Of course, it’s helped that time-zone advantages have allowed many key events to air live to much of the country.

The Opening Ceremony and the first two nights of competition doubled, tripled and in some cases quadrupled the other top programs of the week in various demos. NBC crushed the competish, setting some network records for margin of victory.

And the Peacock should continue to dominate through next week, giving it a leg up on its competitors in touting its new and returning entertainment series to tens of millions of viewers who hadn’t been watching the net.

Overall for the week, according to Nielsen estimates, NBC’s 5.6 rating/17 share in the adults 18-49 demo — its best since the Winter Olympics in February 2006 — was nearly that of the combined delivery of the next four highest-ranked networks: Fox (1.8/6), CBS (1.5/5), Univision (1.4/4) and ABC (1.2/4).

Similarly, the Peacock’s overall average audience for the week (17.7 million) matched that of CBS (5.7 million), Fox (5 million), ABC (3.7 million) and Univision (3.3 million).

And because competing broadcast nets have declined in the four years since Athens while NBC is on the upswing, the Peacock’s margin of victory last week over the second-place finisher — 211% in both 18-49 and total viewers — was its largest since at least 1987 (excluding weeks when it aired seven nights of Olympics).

The Nielsen fireworks started on Friday when the Opening Ceremony (10.3 rating/32 share in adults 18-49, 34.89 million viewers overall) drew the largest aud on record for the opening of a non-U.S. Summer Olympics.

It’s also the most-watched non-football telecast of the past year, and the largest nightly audience for NBC since “Friends” wrapped its run in May 2004.

The Opening Ceremony so dominated the night that NBC’s primetime aud Friday (35.71 million) was larger than that of the next 23 ad-supported English-speaking broadcast and cable nets combined.

Saturday’s coverage delivered the best numbers for any net on the night (8.0/27 in 18-49, 24.08m) since an NFL playoff game in January. It was 16% higher in the demo vs. the opening Saturday in Athens.

And on Sunday, NBC produced its best demo results of these Games (11.2/31 in 18-49) and averaged 32.26 million viewers overall for its four-hour-plus primetime coverage. It was NBC’s strongest Sunday since the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, with viewership topping 38 million when Phelps was in the water around 10 o’clock.

Overall, an estimated 143 million viewers have watched the Beijing Summer Olympics on the networks of NBC Universal. And its average aud of 30.4 million viewers is 6 million more than Athens in 2004 (24 million).

The Olympics dwarfed everything else during the frame, but there were some highlights earlier in the week.

NBC’s two-hour Tuesday installment of “America’s Got Talent” was the week’s top entertainment telecast in both adults 18-49 (3.5 rating/10 share) and total viewers (12.61m). The show returns following the Olympics, and is set to wrap Oct. 1.

The net didn’t do nearly as well, but was at least up vs. recent weeks, for the Monday finales of “American Gladiators” (2.0/6 in 18-49, 5.44m) and “Nashville Star” (1.8/5, 6.21m).

Fox, second for the week in key demos, was led by “So You Think You Can Dance,” which led both on Wednesday with its final performance show of the season (3.1/10 in 18-49, 8.96m) and Thursday with its results-show finale (3.3/11, 9.69m).

Net’s coverage of the “Teen Choice Awards” may have been down year to year in broad categories (1.5/5 in 18-49, 4.44m) but it hit a four-year high among the 12-17 crowd (3.9/14), spiking 77% vs. last year.

CBS finished third for the week in 18-49, despite claiming nine of the week’s top 20 programs. It was led by Monday’s repeat of “Two and a Half Men” (3.0/9, 9.98m) and Tuesday’s “Big Brother” (2.5/7, 6.44m). After the latter hit a summer high, however, it fell off on Thursday (1.9/7, 5.53m) opposite tougher-than-usual competish from Fox’s “Dance” finale.

ABC, whose 1.2 weekly rating in adults 18-49 is believed to be the lowest on record for a major broadcaster, claimed only one of the top 20 programs: a clipshow of new hit “Wipeout” (2.8/9 in 18-49, 7.34m). The net continues to be dragged down by Monday reality dud “High School Musical: Get in the Picture” (0.8/3, 2.78m).

USA led the cable networks once again, with a 0.9/3 in 18-49 and 2.75 million viewers overall, led by Monday’s 10 o’clock portion of “WWE Raw” (1.9/6 in 18-49, 5.20m). “Burn Notice” was its top drama (1.5/4 in 18-49, 4.56m) while other firstrun skeins like “Monk” (1.0/3, 3.62m) and “In Plain Sight” (1.3/3, 4.18m) held up pretty well opposite the Olympics but were down vs. recent weeks.

TNT’s “The Closer” had a strong week (1.8/5 in 18-49, 7.86m), standing as cable’s top entertainment series in 18-49, 25-54 (2.4/6) and total viewers. And sister net TBS saw strong numbers for the season finale of laffer “House of Payne” (1.5/5, 3.80m).

At ABC Family, “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” (1.4/5 in 18-49, 4.09m) hit another high on Tuesday, where it was again the night’s top cable show (Daily Variety, Aug. 7). Among persons 12-34, it was the week’s No. 2 series (2.9/10), edged out by Fox’s finale of “So You Think You Can Dance” (3.0/11).

And “Project Runway” (1.7/5 in 18-49, 3.44m) paced Bravo, which also saw some series-best deliveries for Tuesday’s season finale of “Flipping Out” (0.7/2, 1.28m).

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