Thanks in part to an American site and a record U.S. medal haul, the TV ratings for the Salt Lake City Olympics were 18 percent higher than for the 1998 Nagano Games.
With a whopping 22.3 rating for Sunday's closing ceremony — tying the women's figure skating short program for the third-highest rating of the 17 nights — NBC finished with a 19.2 prime-time average rating.
CBS's coverage four years ago averaged 16.3, making Nagano the lowest-rated Winter Games in 30 years.
NBC's number this time almost equals the 19.3 for the 1988 Calgary Games on ABC. That's quite impressive, given that most network ratings — not just for sports — have fallen as cable has given viewers more choices. ABC, NBC and CBS averaged a 14.0 prime-time rating in 1988, compared to 7.7 this season.
The top Winter Games average rating was the 27.8 for the 1994 Lillehamer Olympics.
Each rating point represents 1 percent of U.S. television households, which currently translates to about 1.05 million homes.
Salt Lake City started with the highest-rated opening ceremony in history, which had a 25.2 rating and an estimated 72 million people tuned in.
The ratings were buoyed by the U.S. team's 34 medals — the country's old Winter Olympics record was 13 — and the judging scandal that turned the pairs figure skating's aftermath into a soap opera.
The telecast of Canada's 5-2 victory over the United States for the gold medal Sunday afternoon drew a 10.7 rating, the highest for any hockey game — NHL or Olympics — since the 1980 Olympics.
An estimated 187 million people tuned in for at least six minutes of NBC's coverage, surpassed in Winter Olympics history only by the 204 million for 1994.
The relatively high ratings — enough to prevent the extra commercials that NBC and CBS were forced to air during the last two Olympics — will have at least two practical effects:
— NBC, which says its profit from Salt Lake City will be $75 million, will have an easier job selling ad time during the 2004 Athens Olympics.
— The increased emphasis on showing events at the expense of features should remain part of the network's strategy at the next three Olympics.
About 50 percent of the competition shown on NBC's evening broadcasts from Utah was live for most of the country, although the entire West Coast feed was on a 2-hour delay most nights.
"The ratings for Salt Lake reaffirmed the perception that the Olympics are a high-quality TV event," said consultant Neal Pilson, who was president of CBS Sports during the 1994 Olympics.