Games attract record viewers and Internet a hit

BEIJING Wed Aug 20, 2008 8:50am EDT

Competitors jump during the men's quarterfinals run for the BMX cycling competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 20, 2008. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

Competitors jump during the men's quarterfinals run for the BMX cycling competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 20, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

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BEIJING (Reuters) - The Beijing Olympics will become the most viewed Games in their 112-year history, boosted by a hugely popular Internet platform, the IOC said on Wednesday.

The International Olympic Committee said viewing figures in key regions, including the United States, were very promising and would eclipse past records set at the Athens 2004 Olympics.

"The Beijing Games look set to become the biggest broadcasted event in Olympic history," IOC director of TV and marketing services Timo Lumme told reporters. "Ratings are higher than for any Olympics before."

The Games opening ceremony on August 8 has already gone down as the highest sports related broadcast event in China with a record 840 million viewers and is expected to have been seen by more than 1.2 billion people worldwide when final figures come in.

Lumme said U.S. broadcaster NBC, which holds exclusive rights for the United States having paid nearly $900 million, also recorded its largest Saturday night audience in 18 years when it broadcast U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps's record-breaking eighth Olympic gold medal winning swim.

"That had an audience of 40 million (in the United States)," Lumme said, adding that the Beijing Games would even eclipse overall U.S. ratings of the Atlanta 1996 Games which attracted many American viewers due to the convenient competition times and because of home support.

Ratings were also promising in many other countries including Britain, already with their biggest gold medal haul in a century, and India which won their first ever individual gold at the Beijing Games.

MAJOR SUCCESS

The IOC, eager to stem a rise of the average age among its Olympic TV viewers, has launched an Olympic channel on the video-sharing site YouTube, offering daily compilations of clips.

Lumme said the use of the Internet for Games broadcasts, which at the Athens Games was still in its infancy, has been a major success, with the NBColympics.com website alone recording 30 times more video views than in Athens, viewing more than 22 million clips.

"In China alone more than 102 million people watched the Games live on line," Lumme said. Many more watched recorded segments.

The IOC's own website had recorded more visits in the first week of the Beijing Games than throughout all of the Athens Olympics.

The IOC has yet to sign contract deals for the 2014-2016 Games package.

"The interest globally for the Olympics is growing," Lumme said. "This is because now there are many more media platforms available," Lumme said.

(Editing by Jon Bramley)

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