World: Media Analysis - The Olympics are over so who were the real media winners?

As a truly global event, the Olympics cannot be beaten for viewers.

Now that the Olympic flame has been extinguished for another four years, agencies are busy scrutinising the games from a media point of view. Did the event race home to victory, Kelly Holmes-style? Or did it fail to meet great expectations, a la Paula Radcliffe?

According to data from Starcom, the Olympics put in a sterling performance.

The media network tracked viewing in eight markets (Australia, China, Germany, Greece, Mexico, Russia, the UK and the US) and found the appeal of the event to be almost universal. Ian Clarke, the executive director of Starcom International, comments: "The stature and appeal of this global event is immense. The eclectic nature of Olympic events provides a springboard for huge ratings across markets."

In the UK and Russia, for instance, 90 per cent of individuals tuned in at some point, while in the host nation, a daily average of 53 per cent of all Greeks watched the games. This climaxed in 37 per cent watching the closing ceremony, simulcast across two channels, despite it being screened late at night.

US viewers were responsible for perhaps the biggest surprise. According to Nielsen Media Research, the event was the most watched non-US games in history, with NBC's coverage attracting 203 million viewers. Starcom figures show viewing peaked when 11.5 per cent of the population tuned in to watch Carly Patterson take gold in the women's gymnastics.

Conversely, in the UK, the biggest viewing figures were for Radcliffe losing the will to carry on again: a fifth of all UK individuals watched the runner pull out of the 10,000 metres on 27 August.

As well as buoying up Greece's economy and reinforcing its infrastructure, the Olympics have brought the country benefits in terms of ad revenue.

Costs rose by an estimated 30 per cent and China, Russia and Mexico all experienced a similar upturn. China is a particularly significant market because Olympic fever has gripped the country since it was announced that Beijing would host the 2008 Games. So enthusiastic are the Chinese that, earlier this year, the International Olympic Committee asked China to put the brakes on its stadium-building as its efficiency was showing up the well-documented disorganisation in Athens.

In China, the Olympics were broadcast on the national channel, CCTV, and advertising was organised through a bidding process that resulted in prices surpassing initial targets. China's one-billion-and-counting population meant viewer numbers were huge compared with other territories. The most-watched event - the men's single table tennis final - attracted 47 million Chinese viewers.

Print and online in China also had their revenues shored up from advertising around the games. The internet, in particular, has the capacity to strengthen its role as a truly global medium, according to Clarke. Its immediacy also gives it an advantage over other media.

There were clear winners and losers among media owners, usually because one TV network dominated the Olympic coverage in each country. In Australia, Seven Network claimed the largest audiences, in Germany it was ARD (despite sharing coverage with ZDF) and in Russia it was the intriguingly named Pervy Kanal.

Subscription-based viewing on Eurosport took a negligible percentage of the total audience across Europe. Just 1.6 per cent in the UK watched the channel, increasing to 4 per cent in Germany. Most viewers in the UK tuned in to either BBC1 or BBC2.

Starcom also estimates that the Olympics had only a minimal effect on advertisers' demand for airtime in the UK - only 1.5 per cent was calculated as additional revenue from the event. The BBC was actually stealing TV viewing share from commercial channels, which is something that planners should anticipate, in Clarke's opinion. "The Olympics shift TV viewing behaviour so, if you live in a market where they are on a non-commercial channel, you have to plan for that," he says.

So in the UK, the Olympics had little effect in buoying up August. In fact, as the BBC stole share from commercial channels, Starcom reckons that there has been a reduction of 3 per cent in commercial impacts, pushing up the price by 4.5 per cent. Increased demand for radio and outdoor advertising has been muted.

In other countries, though, the games helped to lift revenues for August and have been a balm for the global economic recession.

WPP's latest financial results revealed that its revenues have broken through the £2 billion barrier.

The Olympics, along with revenue-boosts in the shape of the European football championships and the US elections, were cited as the main contributory factor. For Sir Martin Sorrell and the chiefs of other holding companies, the next big global sporting tournament - the World Cup in 2006 - cannot arrive a moment too soon.


COUNTRY CHANNEL EVENT Peak rating % Share %

Australia Seven Network men's swimming 24.8 60.8

China CCTV-5 men's singles table

tennis final 14.8 36.0

Germany ZDF opening ceremony 21.8 53.0

Greece ET1 and NET closing ceremony 36.7 84.0

Mexico Channel 5 and

Channel 7 athletics 15.4 68.2

Russia Pervy Kanal opening ceremony 11.8 47.4

UK BBC women's 10,000 metres 24.2 58.0

US NBC women's gymnastics 11.5 32.0

Source: Starcom.

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