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NBC proud as a peacock over Olympics numbers

August 13, 2008 |  1:34 pm

Michael Phelps leaps out of the starting block in the Men's 200-meter Freestyle on Tuesday.

How important are the Beijing Games to NBC Universal?

NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel and his top researcher, Alan Wurtzel, just stayed up until well past 2 a.m. Thursday (Beijing time) to conduct a telephone conference call with stateside reporters.

Their message, to use an Olympics analogy, was that television remains as dominant in media coverage of the Beijing Games as Michael Phelps has been in the Water Cube.

"Ninety percent of the people are consuming the Olympics only on television," Wurtzel said during the call. "Ten percent tell us that they're consuming it both on television as well as using online. Only two-tenths of 1% are consuming entirely on the Internet."

Speaking of Phelps, what does his ongoing gold rush mean for NBC Universal's television ratings?

"We know that the ratings spike when Michael appears," Wurtzel said. "There's no question that Michael is an extraordinarily important driver."

But, just as other athletes can draft off Phelps' wake in the pool, Wurtzel talked of a similar assist for NBC after Phelps has toweled down: "People may come to see Michael Phelps, but they stay to see lots of other Olympic content, and that's terrific."

NBC Universal's main message during the conference call was that its multiplatform approach to covering Beijing (seven television networks, the NBCOlympics.com website, mobile phone downloads and video on demand) doesn't appear to be cannibalizing prime-time television ratings.

"The fact is that this Olympics is on pace to become the most-watched Olympics in history," Zenkel said. "And that includes [the 1996 Atlanta Games] which is the gold standard."

Some statistics offered by NBC Universal:

  • Consumers have used NBCOlympics.com to stream video of Monday's stunning U.S. 4x100 freestyle relay win 1.7 million times -- and 1.5 million of the online visitors who streamed it also sent links to someone else.
  • Traffic on the NBCOlympics.com website grew from 4.2 million (unique visitors) on Friday to 7.8 million on Monday.
  • The number of mobile phone downloads (Web pages and streaming video) grew from 210,333 on Friday to 476,062 on Monday.

-- Greg Johnson

Photo: Michael Phelps leaps off the starting block on his way to a new world record of 1:42.96 in the men's 200-meter freestyle at Beijing's National Aquatics Center on Tuesday. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

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