Skip to main content

With the 2012 Summer Games Approaching, the 2008 Beijing Games Provide Telling Context for Advertisers

Following the 29th Summer Olympics from Beijing in 2008 televised
by NBC, Brad Adgate, senior VP, research at Horizon Media, put together a
comprehensive report with tons of data on viewership and other key factoids
about advertising and advertisers during the Games' two-week telecasts.

With the approach of the 30th Summer Games from London-opening
ceremonies air on NBC Friday, July 27-a look back into that report serves as a
prescient reminder to media agencies and their advertiser clients about how
those Games were received by viewers, along with some information about how
advertisers fared. A few hints looking ahead: NBC's
Today show might get a boost, some sports do better with fans than
others and it pays to be an official sponsor of the Games.

The report opens with a viewership overview of the 2008 Games
by Adgate, followed by a list of key facts he presented after the Beijing Games.

The 29th Summer Olympics from Beijing was an
overwhelming success not only for host country China, but also for the NBCUniversal
networks (NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, USA, Oxygen, Universal HD and Telemundo) that
exclusively broadcast the Games in the United States.

With 214 million total viewers over 17 days across all NBCUniversal
networks (reaching 86% of all TV households), the 2008 Beijing Games was the
most watched television event in U.S. history. In primetime, NBC averaged a
household rating of 16.2 (live plus same day) over the 17 days, well above
predicted estimates. NBC also generated over $1 billion in ad revenue.

Globally, Nielsen estimates that 4.7 billion viewers watched
at least some portion of the Beijing Games, a 20% increase from the 3.9 billion
viewers that watched the Athens Games in 2004.

Looking at the results of the different platforms made
available domestically, the NBCUniversal website,, also
recorded record audience figures with 1.3 billion page views, 53 million unique
users, 75.5 million video streams (an increase of roughly 2,900% from the 2004
Athens Olympics) and 10 million hours of online video consumed. With mobile
devices, there were 36 million page views and 826,000 video views accessed by
6.5 million people.

The NBC network had 225 hours of Olympics coverage over 17
days, and there were 3,600 hours of Olympics coverage across the three screens
of television, online and mobile. The 3,600 hours was 1,000 hours more than the
combined coverage of every Summer Olympics dating back to Rome in 1960 up
through Athens in 2004. It was also the first time live streaming video of the
Olympics was made available in the U.S.

The Olympics remain one of the few mass vehicles available
to marketers and media companies and the only one on a truly global scale. The Games
continue to provide marketers with opportunities across various platforms to
reach consumers. Those marketers who participated in the 2008 Olympics were
clearly winners.

The 30th Summer Olympics from London will be televised on
NBC and its sister networks, including Spanish-language broadcast network
Telemundo, from the July 27 opening ceremonies, through the closing ceremonies
on Aug. 12. It will be the third time London has hosted the modern Summer
Olympics, the most of any city.

Here are some memories and factoids, in no particular order
of importance or significance, from the 2008 Summer Games.

  • During the 2008 Summer Olympics, NBC's Today show
    devoted 54% of its news coverage to the Games and, to a lesser extent,
    China. The NBC Nightly News with
    Brian Williams
    devoted 42% of its coverage to those two topics.
  • During the Olympics The NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams averaged
    9.2 million viewers per night, up 21% from the period before the start of the
    Olympics. Ratings for the Today show were 14% higher than for the period
    just before the Games began.
  • Olympics coverage on Telemundo was watched by 15.7 million viewers, a 26%
    increase over the 2004 Athens Games. In primetime, Telemundo improved its
    ratings by 20% over the 2004 games. The Telemundo website also saw a 20%
    increase in traffic.
  • NBC charged marketers roughly $750,000 for a 30-second spot during the Beijing Games,
    although advertisers who bought packages paid lower rates than that.
  • Presidential candidate Barack Obama spent $5 million on 20 primetime spots
    during the Olympics while his opponent John McCain spent $6 million on 25 primetime
    spots. The candidates, per federal election laws, got special lower rates.
  • The final results of Nielsen Total Audience Measurement Index found that 93% of
    Olympics content was watched on television either on NBC or one of its cable
    networks. The Internet drew 6.6% of all Olympics viewing and mobile was less
    than 1%.
  • What did mobile video watchers want to watch most? According to Nielsen, 61.7%
    of U.S. mobile video users favored watching gymnastics, 58.8% swimming and
    diving and 54.5% track & field.
  • An IMMI (Integrated Media Measurement Inc.) study found that the average length
    of a mobile session was four minutes. The average length of an online session
    was 35 minutes.
  • A record 65 companies were either an official sponsor or official partner to
    the Beijing Games. They spent a cumulative $1.5 billion for those rights.
  • Nielsen IAG estimated that viewers of the 2008 Olympics Games were twice as
    likely to remember an ad they saw during the telecast than in other primetime
    shows. The ad recall during the Olympic telecasts was 50% higher than recall of
    commercials that air during the Academy Awards telecast.
  • A study by Dow Jones Index found that the brands that resonated most with
    consumers were Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Visa, all long-time Olympic sponsors. Coke
    has been a sponsor of every Olympics since 1928.
  • According to Nielsen IAG, the most remembered spots during the Games were two
    by Coke, two by Visa, one each by McDonald's, Kraft for Oreo's and The Home
    Depot. NBC's then-parent company General Electric also had two of the most
    remembered spots.
  • Many top tier Olympics sponsors were upset at the lack of visitors to Beijing's
    Olympic Green. In previous Olympics, an Olympic Green has been a gathering
    point for spectators with restaurants and live music. Many Olympic sponsors
    build pavilions at a cost of millions of dollars in which people could sample
    and look at products. Among them, Lenovo, Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Samsung.
    The Olympic Green in Beijing was six times the size of the Olympic Green in
    Athens and sponsors were expecting 200,000 visitors each day. Citing security
    reasons, the crowd was limited to less than 50,000 people per day.
  • China Central Television, the only broadcast network in China, which has 18
    channels, seven of which televised Olympics coverage, paid only $17 million for
    TV rights and took in $394 million in ad revenue. In total, it aired 2,900
    hours of coverage. The opening ceremony drew a TV audience of 500 million
  • According to a Nielsen/ChinaRank report, on average, 62 million unique visitors
    viewed Olympics content each day on Chinese websites.
  • According to a Gallup Poll conducted prior to the 2008 Beijing Games, 27% of
    Americans said swimming was their favorite Summer Olympics event. Track & field
    was next with 18% and gymnastics was third with 12%. Next was basketball with
    5%, diving with 4%. Men prefer track & field while women prefer gymnastics.
    Both liked swimming.
  • During the 2008 Beijing Games, there were 132 Olympics records set and 43 new world
    records set, including 25 in swimming.