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Beijing Olympics Most-Viewed Event in U.S. TV History

NBC Universal Sunday said its coverage of the Beijing Summer Olympics attracted more than 211 million viewers through the first 16 days, eclipsing the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta as the most-watched event in U.S. television history.

The Atlanta Games drew 209 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, making it now the second-most-viewed TV event in history. The 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer checks in at third with 204 million viewers and the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens ranks fourth with 203 million viewers.

So far, the 211 million viewers are 11 million more than the first 16 days for Athens (200 million) and 5 million more than the Atlanta Games (206 million). NBCU's cable networks through 16 days have already reached 86 million, surpassing the 17-day viewership total for any previous Olympics, network officials said.

The Beijing Olympics 16-day average primetime viewership is 27.7 million, 11 percent ahead of Athens in 2004 (24.9 million). NBC's average of a 16.2 rating and 28 share is the best through the final Saturday for a Summer Olympics outside the U.S. since Barcelona in 1992 (17.3/33), and is a 7% improvement from Athens in 2004 (15.2/27).

Saturday night garnered 43 million total viewers in primetime and 16.5 million average viewers. The night earned a 10.2 rating/19 share. The comparable night in Athens did an 11.1 rating/21 share and averaged 18 million viewers.

Through 16 days, 86 million have watched the coverage on NBC Universal's cable networks, a 25% increase from the first 16 days of the Athens Games (69 million) and more than the 17-day total viewership for any previous Olympics (Athens, 69 million).