Swimmer brings in big numbers for NBC

Michael Phelps continues to deliver some splashy ratings for NBC’s coverage of the Beijing Games, as the swimmer’s pursuit of a record eighth gold medal contributed to the net’s largest aud on a Saturday in 18 years.

Nielsen estimates that the Peacock net averaged 31.1 million viewers from 8 to 11:44 p.m. Saturday. And as has been the case most nights, viewership peaked later in the evening, with 40 million tuning in on average in the 11 o’clock half-hour when Phelps captured the gold as part of the 4×100 medley relay.

The event, which aired live in much of the country, boosted the night’s average for NBC, which was up sharply vs. the opening Saturday of these Games (24.1 million).

You have to go back to 1990 — when Phelps himself was 4 years old — to find the last time NBC drew a larger aud for a Saturday program. That was with an episode of “Golden Girls” spinoff “Empty Nest,” which averaged 31.4 million viewers.

Through nine nights, NBC’s primetime coverage of the Beijing Games has averaged 30.1 million viewers. That number reps a 15% improvement over Athens in 2004 (26.2 million) and is the best for a non-U.S. Summer Olympics since Barcelona in 1992.

The various platforms of NBC U had reached 191 million viewers through Saturday, 14 million more than Athens at this time in 2004 (177 million) and 5 million more than Atlanta in 1996 (186 million), which attracted more viewers during the course of its 17 nights than any television event in history.

The Games continue to fare better west of the Mississippi, with the Mountain time zone averaging a 22.7 household rating/41 share in the metered-market overnights. Among other regions, the West is running second (20.3/39), followed by the Central time zone (19.4/33) and Eastern (18.6/33).

By market, the top scores have come in Salt Lake City (24.7/48), Minneapolis and Denver (both 24.5/45), Phelps’ hometown of Baltimore (23.5/39) and San Diego (23.3/44).

The Olympics conclude Sunday with the Closing Ceremony.

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