Olympics Ratings: So Far, So Good

NBC’s Vancouver numbers up vs. the first three nights of 2006

Last Updated: February 16, 2010 @ 11:58 AM

Viewership for the opening weekend of the Vancouver Olympics is way up from the disastrous Torino games — but the event is skewing a bit older than NBC might care to admit.

First, however, the good news: The opening three nights of NBC’s Olympics coverage averaged 28.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen. That’s up 25 percent from 2006 (22.9) and the most for a non-American Olympiad since 1994’s Nancy-Tonya slugfest.

And on Sunday, NBC had no problem demolishing the competition: The Games drew 26.4 million viewers, outrating ABC, CBS and Fox’s combined viewership of 25.1 million non-sports fans.

Sunday’s night three audience was up vs. the same night of Torino, which brought in 23 million viewers. Given how dramatically the TV landscape has shifted in four years, NBC can be happy about turning it such a dominant performance.

What’s more, while CBS did quite nicely with "Undercover Boss," the competition had much better luck opposite the Winter Games back in 2006.

During the first Sunday of Torino, ABC’s then red-hot tandem of "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey’s Anatomy" simply thrashed the Olympics in both viewers and demos. This time, the Games are looking much more mighty relative to the competition — a promising theme for NBC in the coming nights as it attempts to sell a positive ratings story to advertisers and the media.

On the downside for NBC, Sunday’s third night of Olympics coverage actually declined vs. Torino in the adults 18-49 demographic. This year’s primetime portion averaged a 7.0 in the demo, while Torino’s night three earned a 7.2. 

NBC has to be hoping that Sunday represented an aberration and that, going forward, the Vancouver games will continue to post gains vs. Torino in both demos and adults 18-49. A big test comes Tuesday when Fox reveals the first of the top 24 finalists on "American Idol."

So far, looking at the first three nights over Olympics coverage combined, NBC is up nicely vs. Torino in the young adult demo. Per the network, Vancouver’s Friday-Saturday-Sunday averaged a 7.9 in the demo vs. a 6.9 for the same nights of Torino.

It’s also worth noting that Olympics ad sales aren’t as 18-to-49- focused as most of primetime. NBC in recent years has sought to sell the Games’ ability to reach vast numbers of viewers at a time when audience fragmentation and DVR-delayed viewing makes it harder to gather such big crowds.