Vancouver.jpgDamn you, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.

NBC had its sights set on possibly cracking 200 million viewers with the 2010 Winter Olympics — and perhaps even beating the 1994 Lillehammer Games (which was seen by a total of 204 million).

The Vancouver Games didn’t quite get there — despite that inflatable beaver during the slightly bizarro Closing Ceremonies. But no matter. 

The Vancouver Games was seen by a total of 190 million viewers, a strong enough performance to score the silver, as the second-most watched Winter Olympics of all time.

That’s especially strong given the mood going into the Games: That there wasn’t much of an American story this time out, particularly in the figure skating department.

Turns out the U.S. Hockey team, Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White and Apolo Anton Ono, among others, proved the naysayers wrong.

Noted NBC Olympics chief Dick Ebersol: “It’s important to note how truly dominant our performance is because of the many choices available in the world today. At the time of the Lillehammer Games, the average home had less than 40 channels, but today the average home has 130, more than three times 1994, plus the Internet then was still in its infancy. What makes our performance here even more impressive in this age of so many choices on so many media platforms is the fact that we are averaging more than 2 million more viewers each night than the other three networks combined.”

Here’s the chart of the most-watched Winter Olympics:


1. Lillehammer, 1994, 204 million
2. Vancouver, 2010, 190 million
3. Salt Lake City, 2002, 187 million
T4. Torino, 2006, 184 million
T4. Albertville, 1992, 184 million
T4. Nagano, 1998, 184 million

*Fueled by the tabloid coverage of the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding scandal.

Wait, what’s with that asterisk? Yeah, I know, if only Jeff Gillooly hadn’t taken a pipe to Nancy Kerrigan’s knee, the Lillehmammer Games (which were carried by CBS, natch) wouldn’t be No. 1.

But a number’s a number. And every Olympics has a unique quirk that helps or hurts it. Despite all the moaning about time-shifting, the Vancouver Games were still helped by being in North America. And, of course, social media played a role in helping the hype (just as it has with all ratings-improved events over the last several months).

And then there was that inflatable beaver. In 2014, I do hope the ratings releases noting Vancouver’s strong numbers include this asterisk:

*Fueled by the Closing Ceremony’s inflatable beaver

As for NBC, while they’re celebrating that huge audience, it also comes at a cost: As has been widely reported, the network is on tap to lose $250 million on the Games. And now, the next test comes this week, as NBC unveils its post-Olympics, post-Jay Leno primetime schedule. Big sports events rarely offer a huge, sustained ratings bump — it’s a different audience, after all. But that large Olympics promotional platform should at the very least spur some sampling.