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NBC fail? Audiences defy expectations for US Olympic coverage

NBC had expected time zones to hamper coverage – but audiences are up, and it probably now won’t make a loss on its coverage.

Image: Alastair Grant/AP

IT MAY BE coming in for significant criticism for some gaffes and questionable editorial decisions – but NBC says its Olympics coverage is seeing far higher viewers than it had expected.

The broadcaster, which holds the exclusive rights to air Olympic content in the United States, had previously expected its viewing figures for London 2012 to be down by about a fifth from the games four years ago in Beijing.

Although the time difference was more pronounced for the Beijing games – with events taking place 13 hours ahead of Eastern Time – the timing meant that prime-time events, such as many of Michael Phelps’ swimming finals, could be watched over breakfast.

Other morning events in Beijing fit nicely with the prime-time evening broadcast hours.

The London games are five hours ahead of Eastern Time – meaning evening events are taking place in late morning or mid-afternoon for most Americans – leading NBC to decide that while its online streams would show live events, its TV channels would delay them until evening.

The decision has been criticised by many, and led to some calamitous situations where ads for other NBC shows, broadcast during commercial breaks in the games, have ‘spoiled’ the outcome – such as Missy Franklin’s win in the 100m backstroke.

Despite the staggered showings – which mean many viewers can already know the result before seeing an event on TV – NBC has reported an increase in viewing figures when compared to Beijing, and says its audience is up by 9 per cent.

“We are way ahead of where we thought we’d be,” NBCUniversal chief executive Steve Burke said, attributing the surprise increase to NBC’s intense promotion of the games in the 100 days leading up to them.

Phelps brings the gold

Last night’s broadcast, featuring Michael Phelps’ record-setting swim and the gold-medal performance of the US women’s gymnastics team, had the highest rating of any night so far.

The network has also faced criticism for editing some parts from the tape-delayed opening ceremony – including a decision to edit out a tribute to the victims of the July 7 attacks – and for its role in the suspension of Guy Adams’ Twitter account.

Combined with higher production costs in London, NBC had expected at one point to take a $200 million loss for the games, having paid a whopping $1.2 billion for the exclusive US TV and online broadcast rights.

Before the games opened, it said it sold more than $1 billion in ads, breaking the record of $850 million set during the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

The European Broadcasting Union acquired the rights to the 2012 London games some years ago, on behalf of its member broadcasters which include RTÉ.

In 2010 the IOC rejected similar bids to secure the 2014 Winter Olympics and 2016 summer games, meaning individual broadcasters will be required to secure their own individual rights – though most countries’ laws mean the Games must remain on free-to-air TV.

In territories where no official broadcast rights are awarded, viewers can watch events live for free through the International Olympic Committee’s YouTube channel.

Additional reporting by AP

Gallery: Day 5 of London 2012

Video: Phelps’ mam thought he had won butterfly gold last night

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Gavan Reilly

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