Audiences desert rival networks for NBC

Coverage of the Summer Olympics from Beijing helped NBC run circles around its competish last week, delivering what appears to be the most decisive weekly victory on record for any net.

While its Big Four rivals collapsed to historic lows, NBC was delivering splashier numbers than it put up for the last two Summer Games. As a result, the Peacock won the frame by margins not seen in the 21-year history of Nielsen’s People Meters.

Through Sunday, the average aud for the Beijing Games (29.8 million) reps a 14% improvement over Athens in 2004 (26.2 million) and the biggest for a Summer Olympics held outside the U.S. since 1992. And overall, the Olympics on the various networks of NBC U have now reached 200 million viewers — or more than 83% of television homes in the country.

Highlight of the week was Saturday’s record-breaking gold-medal performance of U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps, which attracted the largest aud for a Saturday program on the Peacock (31.59 million) since an episode of “The Golden Girls” in 1990.

For the week, according to Nielsen, NBC averaged a 9.6 rating/27 share in adults 18-49, roughly seven times the score for CBS (1.3/4). The Eye, as well as Fox (1.2/4) and ABC (1.1/3), fell to record lows in the frame.

NBC’s Olympics coverage so dominated primetime, in fact, that its average 18-49 aud (12.58 million) was more than the next 12 networks combined (Univision, CBS, Fox, ABC, USA, TBS, CW, TNT, ABC Family, Lifetime, Sci Fi and ESPN).

And in total viewers, its average aud of 28.7 million viewers was more than five times that of runner-up CBS (5.1 million) and the largest for any network outside the traditional television season since 1996, when NBC’s coverage of the Atlanta Summer Games corralled an average of 32.1 million.

Auds have been staying up late on a regular basis, with viewership especially strong as the night progresses, and NBC is able to air live coverage to much of the country.

Last week, the Olympics averaged 24 million viewers in the 8 o’clock hour, 28.2 million in the 9 o’clock hour and 34.1 million from 10 to 11. And on the nights when action went past 11:30 p.m., most auds stuck with the Games — peaking with a tune-in slightly north of 40 million during the 11 o’clock half-hour on Saturday, when Phelps won his eighth gold medal of these Games as part of the 4×100 medley relay.

It’s unlikely NBC will approach last week’s lofty heights during the current week (which is heavy on track and field), but it figures to dominate nonetheless. And between “America’s Got Talent” and the return of the NFL’s “Sunday Night Football,” the Peacock should be able to carry its momentum into the start of the fall season on Sept. 22.

Elsewhere, it was a pretty good week, all things considered, for CBS’ “Big Brother.” Reality skein saw its Thursday (2.1/7 in 18-49, 5.86m) and Sunday (2.0/6, 5.53m) editions post week-to-week gains, although both came in behind Tuesday (2.4/6 in 18-49, 6.36m). The three “Big Brother” segs joined a repeat of “Two and a Half Men” (2.4/6, 8.07m) as the top four non-Olympics programs of the week.

And in total viewers, CBS claimed the top 11 non-Olympics offerings.

It was very quiet, meanwhile, at ABC and Fox. Only a repeat of “Wipeout” (1.8/5, 4.84m) did anything for the former, while the latter paid for devoting four hours to repeats of drama “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” (0.9/3 in 18-49, 2.57m on average) prior to its sophomore-season return in a few weeks.

Fox was surpassed in total viewers by Univision (3.36 million to 3.18 million), which continues to average sizable auds for its five-night novellas “Al Diablo con los Guapos” (Down With the Beautiful) (4.73 million) and “Fuego en la Sangre” (Burning for Revenge) (4.40 million).

NBC’s primetime dominance extended to its early-evening newscast, with “Nightly News,” hosted by Brian Williams from Beijing, averaging a big 9.4 million viewers for the week. ABC’s “World News” ran second (6.9 million), and CBS’ “Evening News” trailed in third (5.6 million) — with the Peacock program seeing its biggest advantages since November 2004.

In cable, USA stayed on top in most categories thanks to “WWE Raw” on Monday (1.8/5 in 18-49, 4.67m from 9 to 11 p.m.) and its drama originals. Facing the Olympics on Monday, TNT’s “The Closer” was the week’s most-watched cable program (6.42m), but it was down noticeably week to week in key demos.

Other standouts for the frame included Comedy Central’s Roast of Bob Saget on Sunday (1.6/5, 3.01m); the ESPN preseason “Monday Night Football” contest between Green Bay and Cincinnati (1.6/5, 4.14m); and Lifetime’s “Army Wives” (1.3/3, 3.49m), television’s top scripted series in 18-49 in the 10 o’clock hour Sunday.

ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” (1.3/4 in 18-49, 3.70m) held up well opposite the Olympics on Tuesday, down a bit in teens but hitting a series high in 18-34 (1.8/6). It and some runs of “The Notebook” carried the net to its biggest week ever among adults 18-34 (407,000 viewers), placing third behind only TBS and USA.

Lifetime Movie Network scored Saturday with original movie “Little Girl Lost: The Delimar Vera Story,” starring Judy Reyes and Ana Ortiz. Its average aud of 2 million is the second best on record for the premiere of a telepic on the net.

And a combined aud of 5.57 million watched Saturday’s two-hour presidential forum from California hosted by Rick Warren. Fox News drew the most viewers (2.78 million), followed by CNN (1.92 million) and MSNBC (870,000).

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more