Around The World, Olympics Capture TV Viewers

London | Updated: Aug 31 2004, 05:30am hrs
The Athens Games may set an unofficial Olympic record for empty seats in the stands, but vacancies have been less glaring in the worlds Barcaloungers. The games global television audiences, eagerly tracked by the International Olympic Committee, broadcasters and advertisers, are still being tallied. But early snapshots suggest that viewership of the Athens Olympics will stack up favourably against that of the Sydney Games in 2000.

Variations in national viewing preferences, different ways of allocating broadcast rights, a lack of standardisation in how audiences are measured and the distorting effects of the seven time zones between Athens and Sydney complicate any direct comparisons between 2004 and 2000. The same is true of viewership comparisons between countries.

Still, in several big European and North American markets, Athens appeared to be running ahead of Sydney as the games drew to a finish.

Any increase in ratings will probably be most pronounced in Europe, where audiences tend to prefer live broadcasts rather than the packaged highlights shown during prime time on NBC in the United States. The one-hour time difference between Athens and much of Western Europe means most events have been shown live during the day or in the early evening, while much of the live programming from Sydney occurred during the wee hours of the European morning.

In Germany, average television ratings for the first week of the Athens Olympics were nearly double that of the comparable period during the Sydney Games, according to Initiative, a media strategy firm. British ratings were up more than 50 per cent.

In the US, NBC, which paid $793 million for the broadcast rights to the Athens Games and which showed the 2000 Sydney Games as well, has recorded relatively strong ratings this time. Through the first 11 days, it achieved an average 15.8 rating for its prime-time packages of the days main events, according to Nielsen Media Researchmeaning that 15.8 per cent of American households, on average, were tuned in. That compares with 14.5 for the Sydney Games.

ERIC PFANNER / NY TIMES