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Originally published Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Ron Judd

Include NBC in the Games' biggest winners

Figures keep flying fast and furious about America's state of glued-in-ness to the Beijing Games, which continue to set ratings records...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Figures keep flying fast and furious about America's state of glued-in-ness to the Beijing Games, which continue to set ratings records for NBC.

But the numbers aren't as strong in some parts of the country (like ours) as they are in others. To get to the bottom of that, we offer up the following Q & A Olympic ratings primer:

Q: How good have the ratings been for NBC?

A: Stupid good. People-dancing-atop-their-desks-at-GE HQ good.

Through the Games' first 11 days, NBC averaged 29.6 million viewers a night for its prime-time show, up from a 26.2 million average during the same period for the Athens Games four years ago.

The network's average rating was 17.2 — up from 15.8 in Athens. The network predicts that by the time the flame is snuffed up on Bed Pan Stadium Sunday, the Beijing Games will be the most-watched television event in American history, in terms of aggregate viewers over the course of the Games.

Q: What were the other most-watched events?

A: The Atlanta, Lillehammer, Athens and Seoul Olympics.

Q: How do Seattle's ratings compare?

A: Ah, the fly in the ointment. We were surprised to learn earlier this week that Seattle's average rating for the same time period listed above was a 16.5 rating, with a 35 share, compared to a national average rating of 17.1, with a 29 share.

To explain the numbers: The "rating" is a percentage of actual numbers of televisions in a given market tuned in to the Olympics. The "share" is the percentage of people actually watching TV at the time who are tuned in to the Olympics.

Many other markets — including, surprisingly, Western cities receiving tape delays of prime NBC events — ranked much higher over the first 10 nights of the Olympics in terms of pure ratings points, and some in share. Examples: Denver (24.6 rating/43 share), Minneapolis (24.5/45), Salt Lake City (24.5/48), Baltimore (23.1/38) and San Diego (23/43). Other top-scoring markets were Oklahoma City; Indianapolis; Nashville; Columbus, Ohio; West Palm Beach, Fla,; Phoenix; and St. Louis.

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Seattle, in terms of simply the "rating" figure, ranked 54th of 56 markets metered by Nielsen Ratings.

Q: Does that mean people here don't like the Olympics?

A: Not likely. A recent Scarborough Sports Research study showed Seattle tied for third highest in the U.S. (with Minneapolis, Honolulu and Salt Lake) with 66 percent of residents "very, somewhat or a little bit" interested in the Olympics. Spokane, at 67 percent, was tied with Denver for number one.

Q: So why aren't we watching the Olympics?

A: We are. There are actually three ways to look at the numbers.

One: People might be flocking to CBC, a Canadian network carried on many Western Washington cable services. Watching CBC, which tends to carry more events live, is an option not available in most other markets, except for places such as Detroit and Buffalo and other border areas.

CBC says it doesn't know how many viewers it has in these zones. But research conducted during the Salt Lake Games showed that people jumping to CBC to get live sports could create a swing in the ratings number ranging from one half to two full points.

An NBC spokesman, however, said their data on CBC in this area indicates viewership of the Canadian network is too negligible to even show up in ratings.

Two: People in Seattle, an unusually high-tech, connected community, are seeking Olympic results online.

Three: Actually, Seattle's numbers are, in the words of officials at KING-TV, boffo in their own right.

The 16.5 Seattle rating indicates simply fewer people are watching TV here than in other parts of the country, notes Pat Costello, KING-TV's vice president and station manager. He figures people here might have more non-TV things to do in the summer than people in other markets. The "share" of 35, he notes, puts Seattle in the top 20 of U.S. markets for the Olympics.

The people who are watching TV here are tuning into the Olympics just as much as anywhere else. Seattle usually ranks in the top five Olympic markets, Costello noted. He believes any slip in the comparison rankings only underscores just how popular NBC's coverage has been elsewhere in the country.

KING had "pretty high expectations" for ratings when it set its ad rates for local spots, Costello said, "and we've exceeded that." Bottom line, says Costello: "We're thrilled."

Q: Does KING get complaints about NBC's delayed coverage?

A: KING has to put NBC prime-time programming in Seattle prime time. But Costello says not many viewers have complained to the local affiliate. "I think people have become immune" and simply expect it, he said.

Ron Judd: rjudd@seattletimes.com. Read his Olympics Insider blog at www.seattletimes.com/Olympics

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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