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NBC seeks green from Michael Phelps' Olympic gold

August 11, 2008 |  2:52 pm

Michael Phelps (left) shakes hands with Alain Bernard of France.

Michael Phelps is striving for gold, and each additional medal is sure to bring smiles to the faces of executives at NBC Universal.

NBC's prime-time Sunday broadcast from Beijing -- anchored by the U.S. 400-meter freestyle relay team's come-from-behind victory over France -- generated a 17.9 rating. That's up 16% from the 15.4 rating on the comparable night during the 2004 Athens Games, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

Sunday night's broadcast averaged 31.7 million viewers, Nielsen reported, or 6 million more than the 25.8 million who watched NBC on the first Sunday night's broadcast from Athens.

NBC clearly has hitched its Beijing Games ratings wagon to Phelps. The swimmer is poised to try for his record-tying ninth Olympic gold medal overall (and third gold medal of the Beijing Games) in the 200-meter freestyle.

Nine athletes, including sprinter Carl Lewis and swimmer Mark Spitz of the U.S., share in that record.

NBC is benefiting from a television-friendly competition schedule in Beijing that allows it to broadcast most swim finals -- including Phelps' key races -- during prime time in the U.S. (However, Southern California viewers are seeing those races on a delayed basis.)

NBC Universal said that its networks (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, USA, Oxygen, Bravo and Telemundo) have attracted 143 million total viewers (folks who watch at least part of what's broadcast) during the first three days. That's up from 126 million during the comparable period during the Athens Games.

NBC described its 17.0 rating for the first three days' broadcasts from Beijing as "the best prime-time rating" for a non-U.S. Summer Games since Montreal in 1976, which boasted a 18.1 rating.

-- Greg Johnson

Photo: Michael Phelps, left, shakes hands with Alain Bernard of France after the U.S. won the men's 400-meter freestyle relay final at the Beijing Games on Monday. Credit: Lahalle / Presse Sports via US Presswire