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Monday, September 18, 2000
Olympic ratings tumbling so far for NBC

 NEW YORK (AP) -- NBC's ratings for the Sydney Olympics have been anything but golden.

 They are down whether compared with the last Summer Games (at Atlanta four years ago), the last overseas Summer Games (at Barcelona in 1992) or the last Summer Games held this late in the calendar (at Seoul in 1988).

 And, most significantly, the Nielsen numbers have yet to approach what NBC told advertisers they would.

 The first three days of taped telecasts -- not a single second of competition is being broadcast live -- have averaged a 14.5 national rating in prime time.

 Factoring in the 15-hour time difference between Sydney and the East Coast, NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said in June he expected the coverage to average between a 17.5 and 18.5 over the course of the Olympics.

 Advertisers were told the primetime average would be no lower than a 16.1.

 So far, the ratings are 10 percent lower than that low-water level.

 Direct comparisons with past Olympics look worse.

 The cumulative ratings are 32 percent lower than Atlanta's 21.4 through three days, and 10 percent lower than Seoul's.

 Things might not get better in a hurry for NBC, based on what has happened in two of the first week's biggest audience-grabbing sports. It's doubtful that the swimming competition could become any more riveting -- eight world records were set in the first two days at the pool -- and the U.S. gymnastics teams have not shown much promise.

 "There's not a whole lot you can do, frankly, to change course. What you hope for are major success stories or major athletes that you could promote," said Neal Pilson, who oversaw U.S. TV coverage of two Winter Olympics while president of CBS Sports.

 "You hope in the case of the Olympics that individual stars and teams do well. You would promote in prime time the pictures and the faces of young American athletes. You try to emphasize success and excitement."

 One factor that could be hurting the ratings is the lengthy delay between when events are completed and when they are aired. Results are available on the Internet and on TV sportscasts as many as 20 hours before NBC shows the competition.

 Sunday evening's coverage from Australia, which included swimming and women's gymnastics, drew a 14.6 national rating. That's down 36 percent from the first Sunday in Atlanta, which earned a 22.9 rating.

 It's also off 19 percent from Barcelona, and down 18 percent from Seoul.

 Preliminary ratings also indicate that these Autumn Olympics are not faring well against football.

 NBC's coverage from noon to 6 p.m. EDT on Sunday pulled in a 7.6 overnight rating (based only on the country's largest markets). Fox's NFL doubleheader, from 1-7 p.m. EDT, drew an 11.1, while CBS's NFL game got a 9.6.

 Each rating point for NBC represents 1,008,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 100.8 million TV homes.

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