Olympics Viewership Plummets 37 Percent

NBC's prime-time Olympics coverage from Torinio ended up averaging 20.2 million viewers per night, a 37 percent decline from the Salt Lake City games four years ago, with an even steeper decline among young viewers.

The closing ceremonies on Sunday had only 14.8 million viewers, and was clobbered by ABC's finale of "Dancing With the Stars."

It was a disheartening showing for NBC in prime time. The network had promised its advertisers an average of between 12 and 14 ratings points for the games and barely made it: the average rating was 12.2, according to Nielsen Media Research. Each ratings point represent 1,102,000 households.

NBC had expected ratings to go down from Salt Lake City due to the time difference and rise in patriotism following the 2001 terrorist attacks, but plainly hoped the drop wouldn't be as steep. Salt Lake City averaged 31.9 million viewers a night, while the 1998 Nagano games averaged 25.1 million.

The network said its cable and Internet coverage showed growth, slightly mitigating the prime-time problems.

Among viewers aged 18-to-49-years old, ratings for the Torinio games were down 45 percent. Advertisers are most interested in these young viewers, who abandoned the Olympics in large numbers for FOX's "American Idol."

In fact, among this youthful demographic, NBC didn't even win in prime time last week — Fox did. That's an unheard of slump for a television event as popular as the Olympics.

Still, the Olympic ratings were more than double NBC's prime-time average for regular programming, and the network hopes it was able to reach enough people with ads for new programs like "Conviction" to give them strong starts.

For the week, NBC averaged 19.5 million viewers (11.8 rating, 18 share), FOX had 15.6 million (9.1, 14), ABC had 11.3 million (7.1, 11), CBS had 10 million (6.6, 10), Univision had 4.4 million (2.2, 3), the WB had 2.8 million (1.9, 3), UPN had 2.6 million (1.8, 3), Telemundo had 1.1 million (0.6, 1) and Pax TV had 410,000 (0.3, 0).

Even though NBC's "Nightly News" won the evening-news ratings race with 9.7 million viewers (6.7 rating, 13 share), it didn't get much boost from the Olympics. ABC's "World News Tonight" had 9.1 million viewers (6.3, 12) and the "CBS Evening News" had 8.3 million (5.8, 11).

A ratings point represents 1,102,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 110.2 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.

For the week of Feb. 20-26, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: "American Idol" (Wednesday), FOX, 31.68 million; "American Idol" (Tuesday), Fox, 30.16 million; "Dancing With the Stars" (Sunday), ABC, 27.22 million; "Winter Olympics" (Thursday), NBC, 25.72 million; "Winter Olympics" (Tuesday), NBC, 25.07 million; "Grey's Anatomy," ABC, 24.76 million; "American Idol" (Thursday), FOX, 23.37 million; "Winter Olympics" (Monday), NBC, 22.48 million; "Dancing With the Stars" (Thursday), ABC, 17.7 million; "Winter Olympics" (Saturday), 16.54 million.