Not since Gabby Douglas was six months old has any Olympics been as big of a ratings draw as the 2012 London Games.
Tape delayed primetime coverage of the 2012 Summer Olympics earned 21.1 final rating and 36.8 million viewers on NBC Thursday night, up 18% in ratings and 24% in viewership from Beijing in 2008 (17.9, 29.708M), and up 9% and 16%, respectively, from Athens in 2004 (19.3, 31.705M).
The comparable night of the most recent Olympics — the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver — earned a 14.5 and 24.782 million viewers.
The 21.1 rating ranks as the highest for the first Thursday night of any Olympics (summer or winter) since Atlanta in 1996 (26.8) and the highest for the first Thursday of a non-U.S. Olympics since Lillehammer in 1994 (26.2). For some perspective, the comparable night of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics — the most recent Olympics held in the U.S. — earned a 17.6 rating.
Overall, Thursday’s telecast ranks as the third-most viewed of the 2012 Olympics, trailing Tuesday’s coverage (38.7M) and last Friday’s Opening Ceremony (40.651M).
In addition, the 36.8 million viewers made the primetime window the most-viewed Thursday night telecast of any kind — on any network — since the series finale of the NBC show ‘Friends’ in 2004 (52.5M).
Through Thursday, primetime coverage of the 2012 London Olympics has averaged a 19.5 rating and 35.1 million viewers on NBC, up 10% in ratings and 15% in viewership from 2008 (17.7, 30.6M), and up 20% and 30%, respectively, from 2004 (16.2, 27.0M).
The 19.5 average is the highest for any Olympics through the first Thursday since Atlanta in 1996 (23.4), even topping Salt Lake City in 2002 (19.2). Excluding U.S.-based Olympics, the 19.5 average is the highest since Lillehammer in 1994, and the highest for the Summer Olympics since Montreal in 1976.
So far, six of the seven primetime windows have earned at least 30 million viewers. By comparison, only five telecasts hit that mark during the entire 2008 Olympics, and two did so in 2004. This marks the largest number of Olympic telecasts to draw at least 30 million viewers since Salt Lake City in 2002, when seven telecasts hit that mark.
(Thursday’s numbers and seven-night average from NBC Universal Media Village)