NBCU Just Short Of Total Audience Gold

The networks of NBC Universal got nipped Friday night, but they're poised to wave the banner as part of the most-viewed event in U.S. TV history.

Fifteen days into its presentation of the Beijing Olympics, NBCU’s coverage fell just short of stepping to the top of the audience podium with 208.7 million viewers through Aug. 22, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

The total through Friday was just 300,000 short of the 209 million that tuned in over all 17 days of the company’s coverage from the Atlanta Games in 1996.

NBCU still had two days remaining before its final Nielsens with the Beijing Games go into the books.

 The programmer's more expansive coverage from China had surpassed the Atlanta.-hosted quadrennial’s first 15 days (204 million) by almost 5 million, and was some 11 million above the same period during the most recent Summer Games from Athens in 2004.

NBCU Cable's networks -- USA, MSNBC, CNBC and Oxygen -- have made a major contribution, with 85 million viewers, the most in the medium's history with the Games, according to Nielsen data. Accounting for 40.5% of the programmer’s total to date, Beijing's cable audience was 29% greater than the 66 million who watched during the first 15 days from Athens and eclipsed the 17-day total of 68.6 million from those Games by 24%

Despite registering its lowest primetime rating of the Beijing Olympics to date with a 10.5/19 share and 17.5 million viewers Friday night (down from a 12.5/23 share and 20.1 million on the corresponding night in 2004), NBC averaged a 16.5/28 share and 28.1 million viewers in primetime through Aug. 22.

The Peacock’s 15-day average was 11% ahead of the 25.3 million from the comparable period in Athens. Moreover, NBC’s household levels through the final Friday was the highest for a Summer Olympics held outside the U.S. since Barcelona in 1992 (17.5/34), and represented a 6% increase over Athens (15.5/27).