NBC is crowing its Beijing Olympics has been the most watched American TV event of all time. That’s for 16 days on NBC and its cable channels that showed the games. Final figures won’t come in until Monday after tonight’s carnival-themed closing ceremonies, but already the 211 million viewers have surpassed the 209 million from the previously record-setting 1996 Atlanta Games. Here’s the asterisk, though: this statistic doesn’t account for the fact that there are more people and more televisions nowadays. So don’t take it all that seriously even though it sure sounds swell. Meanwhile, think about what a lost promotional opportunity this was for NBC Universal because its fall primetime schedule is a wasteland when it comes to both quantity and quality of new shows and specials. (How pathetic that Christian Slater’s lame “my evil twin is me” series was all that NBC had to market over and over ad nauseum during the games. It’s already clear that Jeff Zucker’s brilliant idea to save money by killing pilot season backfired big-time, and NBC will wind up in 4th place yet again.) Still, at a time when U.S. networks even have trouble attracting dougle-digit Nielsen ratings for shows, the Olympics is a big reminder that eyeballs and not just demographics do matter to advertisers. NBC reached a record $1 billion in ad sales before the start of this Olympics, and pulled in another $25 million after the games began. Which is why next time around NBC is going to face stiff competition for the U.S. broadcasting rights to the Olympics after its contract expires in 2012. For instance, ESPN and Fox said last week they plan to be in on the bidding process for at least the 2014 Winter Games and 2016 Summer Games when the IOC begins the auction process next year. I say a change is long overdue, especially after NBC’s coverage in Beijing was over-edited, ridiculously compliant to the Chinese government (Bob Costas is no Jim McKay, and he clearly was afraid to ultimately ask hard questions or adequately express pathos over the unthinkable tragedy of a murder and near-murder at the games, much less arrests or human rights), and still failed to let viewers watch what they wanted when they wanted on TV or online despite all the hype promising just that.
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