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2012 Olympics: NBC's Audience Pool Averages 38.7 Million as Phelps Swims to Record Medal Count

On the night when Michael Phelps became the most-decorated athlete in Olympic history, NBC's primetime coverage set records of its own.
NBC's July 31 telecast from 8 p.m. to 11:43 p.m. (ET/PT) scored a 21.8 national rating/35 share, the highest-rated night for any Summer Games since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, translating into 38.7 million viewers the most for the first Tuesday of a non-U.S. Summer quadrennium since the competition was first televised from Rome in 1960.

The latest Nielsen notables from the London Games came on the same day that NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke, speaking on parent Comcast's second-quarter earnings calls with analysts, said the programmer would come close to breaking even on these Olympics. Burke said the strong ratings coupled with ad sales that were some $100 million ahead of forecast has NBCU taking a more sanguine outlook on London, as internal estimates called for a loss of as much as $200 million.

The 21.8 rating -- powered by those watching Phelps win a silver in the 200-meter butterfly and then anchor the U.S.  team to gold in the  4 x 200-meter freestyle relay race for his record-breaking 19th medal -- was the best for a Tuesday night telecast on any U.S. network since NBC rang up a 22.3 mark with the Salt Lake City Olympics on Feb. 19, 2000. The delivery was 9% greater than the comparable night in Beijing (20.0/34) and 19% above the 18.3/39 in Athens in 2004, the last European Olympics.
The Peacock's five-night average household rating of 19.5/33 stands as the highest for any non-U.S. Summer Olympics through the first Tuesday since the 1976 Montreal Olympics. The average rating is 10% and 27% higher than Beijing (17.8/31) and Athens (15.4/27), respectively.
With 38.7 million viewers, July 31 ranks as the most-watched first Tuesday for any non-U.S. Olympics in the history of televised Olympics. The viewership is 4.7 million and 14% more than the first Tuesday night of the 2008 Beijing Olympics (34.0 million), and is 8.6 million and 27% above Athens Olympics (30.1 million).
Through the first Tuesday of the London Olympics, NBC averaged 35.6 million viewers, the most of any non-U.S. Summer Olympics since ABC's coverage of the Montreal Games. The 35.6 million is 14% and 4.3 million more viewers than the first five nights from Beijing (31.3 million) and 38% and nearly 10 million more watchers than in Athens (25.8 million).
Through five days, 168.1 million Americans have watched some part of  the Olympics on the networks of NBCU, slightly ahead of Beijing's 167.8 at the same point through the Games. The 2008 Games, with a reach of 215 million viewers, is the most-watched event in U.S. TV history. NBCU officials had predicted that London's reach would exceed 200 million to rank in the top five.