Olympics TV rating high

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 10, 2002

The Associated Press

NEW YORK – The Salt Lake City Games had the highest-rated Olympic opening ceremony ever, with a quarter of the country tuning in.

Sunday, February 10, 2002

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NEW YORK – The Salt Lake City Games had the highest-rated Olympic opening ceremony ever, with a quarter of the country tuning in.

NBC’s broadcast drew a 25.5 national rating and 42 share Friday night, with Nielsen Media Research reporting that 72 million people watched all or part.

That means an average of 25.5 percent of all U.S. TV homes and 42 percent of TVs that were on were tuned to NBC.

It’s a stunning and immediate turnaround from the last Olympics, the Summer Games in Sydney in September 2000. NBC’s coverage there was hampered by a huge time difference and other problems that contributed to the lowest prime-time TV ratings for an Olympics since 1968.

NBC was airing extra ads by the middle of the first week to make up the difference. The advertisers paying about $600,000 per 30-second spot this time around had to be pleased with Friday’s tune-in.

The Salt Lake City opening ceremony was highlighted by the entrance of a tattered American flag that flew at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, and it was capped by the lighting of the Olympic cauldron by members of the 1980 ”Miracle on Ice” U.S. hockey team.

Friday’s rating was 57 percent higher than NBC had for Sydney’s opening ceremony, and 49 percent higher than CBS got for the last Winter Games, in Nagano, Japan, four years ago.

What makes the viewership totals that much more remarkable is that they were higher than the previous record for a Summer or Winter Olympics opening night – the 24.2 rating and 37 share that CBS drew for the Squaw Valley Games in 1960, back when the total TV universe consisted of the three major networks.

With the proliferation of cable channels and the Internet, the broadcast networks have had a smaller and smaller audience from which to draw viewers. That’s been reflected in the increasingly lower ratings numbers for major sporting events. Last week’s Super Bowl, for example, tied for the third-lowest rating in the last 30 years for the NFL’s championship game.

Friday’s ratings grew steadily from the 8 p.m. EST start to a peak of 30.8 from 10-10:30 p.m. EST. Salt Lake City, as one would expect, had the highest rating of any market, with 65.5 percent of all TV homes tuning in. The country’s biggest market, New York, had a 30.3 rating, with No. 2 Los Angeles – where the telecast was shown on a 2 1/2-hour tape delay – registering a 25.8 rating.