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Scott D. Pierce: NBC predicts monster ratings for London Games

Published July 17, 2012 11:25 pm

Sports on TV • In addition to TV coverage, everything will be available live online.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Clearly, the biggest television event of the summer will be the London Olympics from July 27-Aug. 12. Nothing else will even come close in terms of hype.

Or, NBC hopes, in terms of ratings.

To say that the folks at the network are confident would be an understatement.

"I know this is going to stun you, but I think these Olympics will be huge," deadpanned Alan Wurtzel, NBC's president of research, in a conference call with reporters. "Without question, they're going to dominate 17 nights of prime time. I believe they will rank in the top five of the most-watched events in television history, with north of two hundred million viewers."

Part of that is, of course, TV bravado. All network executive talk up their programming.

But Wurtzel is a numbers guy. And NBC has done all sorts of research to back up the bravado.

And it certainly isn't going to hurt that the Olympics won't face much in the way of television competition in late July and early August. It's not like the other networks will lay down and die, but … OK, it's pretty much like that.

What makes the Olympics different from other televised sporting events is that people who don't watch sports on TV watch the Games. Wurtzel tossed out some rather amazing numbers that came out of NBC's analysis of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing:

 • 69 million of those Olympics viewers did not watch a single NFL football game that season.

• 108 million of those viewers did not watch a Major League Baseball game that season.

• 96 million of those viewers did not watch ESPN in June, July or August that year.

"It gives you a sense about the magnitude and the difference of the audience that comes to the Olympics," Wurtzel said.

And, in an era when a lot of parents and children watch TV in different rooms, research shows the Olympics are an exception to that rule. In 2008, 71 percent of kids watched the Beijing Games with their parents.

"So it's an opportunity to have a little bit of family bonding," Wurtzel said.

NBC is not naive enough to believe the younger generations will watch the Olympics the same way their parents do. They'll watch on the laptops, pads and smart phones. For the first time, NBC will live-stream every minute of coverage — more than 5,500 hours — with the network's prime-time show taking the traditional path of taped highlights.

"I don't think you should think of the Olympics as just a TV event anymore," Wurtzel said. "It truly is a multi-media event."

And it's not difficult to join in the live streaming — if you qualify. To qualify, you must subscribe to cable or satellite and your lineup must include both CNBC and MSNBC.

Then you need to go online to NBCOlympics.com/LiveExtra, select your TV provider and enter your username and password.

(It's not hard. I did it in a matter of minutes.)

If you don't have a username and password, contact your cable/satellite provider and get one.

NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus is convinced the live streaming will work. And that it won't hurt those prime-time ratings projections. — "that the streaming during the day will help drive people to prime time."

We'll see.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.