Winter Games seen on TV by over half of Americans

NEW YORK Tue Feb 23, 2010 4:41pm EST

Ryan Bedford of the U.S. competes in the men's 10,000 metres speed skating race at the Richmond Olympic Oval during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, February 23, 2010. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen

Ryan Bedford of the U.S. competes in the men's 10,000 metres speed skating race at the Richmond Olympic Oval during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, February 23, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Jerry Lampen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - NBC's online coverage of the Vancouver Winter Olympics has drawn nearly 33 million viewers and no shortage of buzz -- but the Web is far from overtaking television when it comes to audience size.

New figures from NBC Universal show that TV accounts for about 93 percent of the audience for the Winter Games, with more than half of the U.S. population catching at least some of the action on TV.

"TV is still king," Alan Wurtzel, president of research at NBC Universal, said on Tuesday. "Multiplatform consumption is emerging and going to become extraordinarily important. But the mothership is -- and will remain for a very long time -- television."

Wurtzel said that over the first 11 nights of the games, the broadcasts have been more dominant in prime-time ratings than any other Winter Olympics on record. Ratings among young adults have been particularly healthy, he said, with viewership up 57 percent among those 18-24 years old from the 2006 games in Torino, Italy.

Even so, NBC's coverage of the Olympics has only once beaten "American Idol" -- the Fox juggernaut -- and ratings are below those of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002.

"You can't compare it to Salt Lake," said Wurtzel, who heads NBC's research efforts. "Salt Lake was a domestic Olympics that took place seven months after 9/11 in a media environment that is so old now that it is sort of like the paleo-historic era."

As for new media, Wurtzel said that viewers have watched six times the amount of video online during these games than during Torino. He said one key difference from Torino, or even Beijing, is that watching the events on a PC or mobile phone is becoming much more mainstream.

Wurtzel said there is an assumption that "people who are on mobile or on the Internet are 25-year-olds who live in Soho and wear black. That just isn't true."

Among other findings in the research: about 66 percent of people said they stayed up later than normal to watch the games, and 40 percent of them were more tired than usual; 35 percent of those who watched the games cried during the broadcast; and snowboard champion Shaun White was the athlete people who would most like to have over for a family meal.

(Reporting by Paul Thomasch)