SBD/July 30, 2012/Olympics

NBC Off To Best Summer Olympic Viewership Mark During Opening Weekend

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Early gymnastics qualifying helps NBC to a record weekend.

NBC earned a 21.7 overnight Nielsen rating last night from 7:00-11:15pm ET for Olympics coverage, marking the best overnight for the first Sunday of a non-U.S. Summer Olympics on record. The figure is behind only a 26.0 overnight for the ’96 Atlanta Games and a 26.9 for the '84 L.A. Games. Last night’s primetime coverage featured taped coverage of the men’s 4x100 freestyle relay -- which saw the U.S. squad finish second to France -- as well as U.S. swimmer Dana Vollmer earning a Gold Medal in the women’s 100 meter butterfly and the women’s gymnastics all-around qualifying. The 21.7 rating is up 2% compared to the first Sunday night during the '08 Beijing Games, when the eastern and central time zones saw live coverage of U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps winning the second of his eight gold medals in the 4x100 relay. Milwaukee topped all U.S. markets during last ngiht’s coverage with a 28.4 local rating, followed by Salt Lake City (26.5) and K.C. (25.3).

THROUGH TWO NIGHTS: NBC’s average through the first two nights of the London Games primetime coverage is an 18.8 rating and 35.6 million viewers. The viewership mark is the best on record, while the rating is the best for any non-U.S. Olympics. The average is up 21% from 29.5 million viewers in ’08 and up 7% from ’96. The first night of competition on Saturday night, which featured the first race between Phelps and U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte, earned a 15.8 rating and 28.7 million viewers. That audience marks the best viewership for any first night on record, and also the highest-rated first night for a non-U.S. Olympics since the ’76 Montreal Games. NBC also earned a 21.0 rating and 40.7 million viewers for the Opening Ceremony. The rating is up from Beijing, but just short of the record set during Atlanta. The viewership is the best for any Olympics Opening Ceremony on record (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).

PRIMETIME OLYMPIC RATINGS
 
Day
London
Beijing
Athens
Sydney
Atlanta
Opening Ceremony
Fri.
21.0
18.6
14.6
16.2
23.6
Day 2
Sat.
15.8
13.9
11.8
13.1
17.2
2-Day Avg.
18.8
16.0
13.3
14.5
20.5
           

NUMBERS DON'T LIE: In L.A., Scott Collins notes NBC claims the ratings are "vindication of its controversial media strategy for the London Games." NBC Sports Group Chair Mark Lazarus said in a statement, "This audience number for the London opening ceremony is a great early sign that our strategy of driving people to watch NBC in prime time is working" (L.A. TIMES, 7/30). DAILY VARIETY's Brian Lowry wrote for "all the second-guessing about the London Games ... the initial ratings were spectacular." Whatever the "concerns about diluting tune-in -- starting with the gluttonous buffet of programming available -- the Olympics endure, and little is likely to prevent London from being a rousing success by today's fragmented broadcast standards" (VARIETY.com, 7/29). The AP's David Bauder noted the Opening Ceremony was the "most-watched television event in the U.S. since the winter, when 39.9 million people watched the Grammy Awards and 39.3 million saw the Oscars." The results were a "good sign for NBC and broadcast TV in general, which is increasingly finding that big events draw people to the screen more than regular entertainment programming" (AP, 7/28). In DC, Lisa de Moraes wrote, "Now you know why NBC did not stream the Opening Ceremony, but made people wait to watch it via NBC in primetime" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 7/28).

TV TIMEOUT: In Baltimore, David Zurawik wrote NBC's broadcast of the Opening Ceremony Friday night "made for a fine opening to the games." The overall production "started to drag about two hours in, but NBC wisely gave viewers a three-minute break from the proceedings in the stadium for an interview with Michael Phelps." Zurawik wrote, "At first when the hosts were teasing it, I thought the decision was a mistake that would make it harder for me to get into the spectacle and pageantry of the opening ceremonies when the cameras took us from the studio back to the games. But NBC was right. By the time Phelps came on with Ryan Seacrest, I was ready for a change of pace." NBC's Meredith Vieira "was superb in the co-hosting she did with [Matt] Lauer -- not a second of wasted effort or silliness." NBC's Bob Costas was "a little less smartalecky than usual, and on most nights, I would complain about that because I love his ironic, wiseguy edge." Zurawik: "But again, I think NBC was right: There wasn't a lot of space for irony and wisecracks Friday night" (BALTIMORE SUN, 7/28). Lauer said of “Queen Elizabeth” parachuting into Olympic Stadium with James Bond, “Are you kidding me? ... Queen Elizabeth II making perhaps the most memorable entrance to an Opening Ceremony ever. This is what they’ll write about in newspapers around the world tomorrow.” NBC’s Meredith Vieira: “Now it’s already going viral.” Lauer said, “Tonight, she’s a Bond girl” (NBC, 7/27).

GOOGLE HIM
: In N.Y., Alessandra Stanley wrote Lauer and Vieira "did their best to get in the spirit of British nuttiness, but at times their energy flagged, and their bewilderment became obvious." After a hospital sketch that "morphed into a children’s nightmare -- and a giant fake baby floating on a bed -- Lauer said, 'I don’t know whether that’s cute or creepy'" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/28). The GUARDIAN's Paul Harris wrote Vieira "failed to do her homework and thus did not recognise the importance" of World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, who played a role in the Opening Ceremony. Vieira said, "If you haven't heard of him, we haven't either." Lauer replied, "Google him." Vieira also attempted to "add to the vocals of Mick Jagger as the Rolling Stones' (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction got an airing in the music montage segment." It "wasn't a high point as she must have realised, as the karaoke effort lasted a mere few bars before she went back to straight commentary" (GUARDIAN.co.uk, 7/28). Meanwhile, in DC, Jen Chaney in an Opening Ceremony running blog wrote the Internet "seems a bit frustrated by the NBC commentators," as "Shut-up Matt Lauer" became a running theme on Twitter. Others on Twitter were accusing Lauer and Costas "of doing their parade of nations research on Wikipedia" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 7/27).

THE RIGHT CALL? The GUARDIAN's David Hills noted NBC is "facing growing criticism after editing their delayed coverage of the London 2012 opening ceremony to replace the 'memorial wall' tribute section with a Ryan Seacrest interview with Michael Phelps." NBC's broadcast "left out sections including the reflective moment when the Scottish singer Emeli Sandé sang Abide with Me." The section "included images of loved ones lost by those in the stadium, and was also widely interpreted as a tribute to the 52 victims of the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London" in '05 (GUARDIAN, 7/28). The London DAILY MAIL noted NBC is "known for cutting away for small portions of the opening ceremonies to make way for commercial, but U.S. commentators say they have never heard of it skipping a whole performance before." Meanwhile, Costas followed through on his plan to acknowledge the IOC denied a moment of silence "honouring Israeli athletes killed at the Olympics 40 years ago ... but stopped short of offering his own protest" (London DAILY MAIL, 7/28). He said, "For many, tonight with the world watching is the true time and place to remember those who were lost and how and why they died” (NBC, 7/27).

ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK: TIME.com's James Poniewozik noted there was "some disagreement over whether the segment was actually, literally a tribute to terrorism victims." Poniewozik wrote, "But it also doesn’t really matter. Specific or general, a tribute to the missing seems like precisely the most sensitive section of a ceremony to edit out. And besides that, given the stranglehold NBC maintains on content for an event its audience has a massive interest in, why edit anything out?" It may have been a "long ceremony, as they always are, but there was plenty of time to air the song rather than have Ryan Seacrest interview athletes" (TIME.com, 7/28). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand wrote it is "not shocking NBC didn't see lingering on that as helping its overall marketing effort." When asked why NBC "didn't show the memorial, NBC spokesman Greg Hughes on Saturday said only that 'our programming is tailored for the U.S. audience. It's a tribute to (opening ceremony producer) Danny Boyle that it required so little editing'" (USA TODAY, 7/28). The Baltimore SUN's Zurawik asked, "NBC was broadcasting to the U.S. not the U.K., and if there is still dispute today about the content, how many U.S. viewers do you think would have understood what it was Friday night?" (Baltimore SUN, 7/28). The GUARDIAN's Matt Williams noted while NBC took an "online shellacking over perceived failings in its opening ceremony coverage, host Meredith Vieira belatedly mentioned on Saturday night's show a memorial segment it had failed to air live the previous night." The network "may not be overly concerned, given that a first glimpse at the ratings [seemed] to suggest that it is working out quite nicely for them" (GUARDIAN, 7/29).

SENTENCE FIRST, VERDICT AFTERWARDS! The AP's Bauder noted Twitter was "alight again Saturday with complaints against the network for not televising live the men's 400-meter swimming race that American Ryan Lochte won, with Michael Phelps finishing fourth." Media critic Jeff Jarvis "called it 'ludicrous' that NBC was airing promotions for the race when it was easy for anyone to quickly find the results on the computer." Others were "angry to learn the results on NBC's 'Nightly News' before the prime-time telecast." A further aggravation "was the telecast itself, including lengthy features with John McEnroe and Lochte, and Ryan Seacrest with Phelps, simply emphasizing that NBC was pumping up a race that had already been run." The network did air the race "live Saturday afternoon on its Web site" (AP, 7/29). NBC London Olympics Exec Producer Jim Bell "took to Twitter to answer critics and even change the way NBC is doing something in response." Time's Poniewozik tweeted, "NBC tape delay coverage is like the airlines: its interest is in giving you the least satisfactory service you will still come back for." Bell replied on Twitter, "You do know that all sports events are being streamed live right?" (AP, 7/29). In Phoenix, Bob Young wrote there is a "big difference between tape-delaying an entertainment production like the opening ceremony and the actual Olympic competition." When Phelps and Lochte, in the "most-hyped rivalry of these Games, meet in the pool for the first time, we'd like to see that live." Young: "We should expect to see that live. ... There was no way for anyone with a smart phone, television or computer to avoid the result without really working at it" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 7/29). In Austin, Kirk Bohls wrote, "Love watching the Olympics, but in this day of the Twitterverse, I'd love to see NBC show more live events" (STATESMAN.com, 7/29).

AVERT YOUR EYES: The Baltimore SUN's Zurawik noted outside of a graphic that appeared onscreen during the sports portion of WBAL-NBC's 6:00pm ET news Saturday, the "only mention of Michael Phelps failure to win a medal in his first event ... came in a graphic shown onscreen" during the sports portion of the show. WBAL's Gerry Sandusky "warned viewers to look away before the news of Phelps' fourth place finish was shown on the screen if they didn't want to know." WBAL GM Dan Joerres said that Sandusky "never verbally reported the results." Zurawik: "A weird way to do the news -- especially a story this big to Baltimore viewers" (Baltimore SUN, 7/29). Meanwhile, during last night’s edition of “Nightly News,” anchor Brian Williams noted there were "more surprising results in two of the marquee events here, swimming and women’s gymnastics, both to be broadcast here on NBC in primetime tonight." Williams: "Veteran viewers may remember how we do spoiler alerts here. If you don’t want to see the results, close your eyes or look away for a moment. We won’t say anything on the air to give it away but it will be on the screen and then we will tell you when it’s safe to look back.” The broadcast displayed the results of the men’s 4x100 freestyle relay and U.S. gymnast Jordyn Wieber failing to qualify for the all-around competition” (“Nightly News,” NBC, 7/29).

TRENDING ON TWITTER: USA TODAY's Robert Bianco writes just days into NBC's coverage, there already is a "Twitter pile-on at #NBCfail and a growing chorus of complaints aimed at Ryan Seacrest." Bianco: "If you are going to gather us in prime time to see the Opening Ceremony, then you should show it to us once you have us. ... And that certainly means not interrupting Saturday's coverage for a Seacrest interview with Phelps' family." As if to "compound the problem, the network then had him lead a back-slapping Twitter-walk through Opening Ceremony compliments." Bianco writes, "Is someone trying to undercut him before he can even get started, or is Seacrest's news judgment truly that awful? Talk like that, NBC really doesn't need" (USA TODAY, 7/30).

THIS IS "TODAY": This morning’s episode of NBC’s “Today” looked back on Team USA’s results over the opening weekend of the Games and highlighted some of the triumphs. The broadcast began with a taped interview with Gold Medal-winning swimmer Dana Vollmer and a live interview with swimmer Natalie Coughlin, whose Bronze Medal in the 400-meter relay Saturday tied her with Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres as the most decorated U.S female Olympian with 12 total medals. NBC’s Tim Daggett and Elfi Schlegel reviewed the performance of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. U.S. medal-winning swimmers Brendan Hansen and Elizabeth Beisel sat for a live interview. The second hour led with the weekend performances of U.S. swimmers Lochte and Phelps, and followed with live interviews with Gold Medal-winning skeet shooter Kim Rhode and Silver Medal-winning synchronized divers Kelci Bryant and Abby Johnston. More highlights led the third hour, followed by a live interview with members of the Silver Medal-winning U.S. men's archery team. Former Gold Medalists Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin reviewed the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, while Bronze Medal-winning swimmer Lia Neal was interviewed (THE DAILY).

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