Twenty years ago this month I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with NBC Sports in their coverage of the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea. I, along with the rest of the technical team, worked 32 days straight, between 12-16 hours per day. It was grueling but fun, and exciting to be a part of the biggest broadcast event in history. Every four years the Summer Olympic games are the biggest broadcast event in history…and this year is no exception. Back in 1988 we were excited to be part of the team offering up more than 180 hours of television coverage. This year they will broadcast 3,600 hours of the Olympics on seven networks — NBC, USA Network, MSNBC, CNBC, Oxygen, Telemundo and Universal HD, as well as streaming video on the Internet and to mobile devices. Just to put that in perspective, NBC reports that the 2008 coverage will exceed, by more than 1000 hours, the combined coverage of every Summer Olympics from Rome 1960 to Athens 2004.
In addition to the expansion of coverage, this year has seen a big increase in the size of the audience. According to NBC, approximately 157 million people, about half the U.S. population, watched some Olympic action in the first several days. In addition, Nielsen Media Research reports that NBC Universal’s Beijing Olympic coverage was the most-watched event in U.S. television history with more than 214 million total viewers. Starting with the opening ceremonies, TV ratings records have been falling like world records in the Water Cube. Some are calling it the Phelps effect. With 8 gold medals and 7 world records, Michael Phelps is certainly attracting TV, and web, viewers. Visitors to NBCOlympics.com viewed 1.1 million streams of the 400 meter freestyle relay in which the US came from behind to win the gold. (For more audience research on the 2008 games, visit the Nielsen website. See especially the Special Report: The Olympics’ Impact on Advertising and The Media)
NBC is hoping that they can turn those viewers into advertising revenue. After paying nearly $900 million for the rights to broadcast the Beijing Olympics to the American audience, NBC is working overtime to turn sports drama into dollars. And there appears to be no end in sight for rising costs. NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol (no “e” = no relation, I’m sorry to report) has also secured the rights to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London for a reported $1.181 billion. Makes you wonder how they ever hope to recoup that kind of money.