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Gold medal for Canadian broadcasters: London 2012 opening ceremony sets record with 16.6 million viewers

Don Landry
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Canadians watched the London 2012 opening ceremony in record numbers. (Reuters)

For a brief moment in time, it appeared that NBC executives would have the last laugh. They do not, however, as Canadian television numbers for the London 2012 opening ceremony come in.

Roundly criticized by media experts and the general American viewing public for showing the opening ceremony of the Olympics hours after it actually happened, they were able to trumpet the wisdom of that decision, when it was reported that a record number of Americans watched their telecast on Friday night.

40.7 million people tuned in, the largest American audience for an opening ceremony ever. If they were angry about the delay, seems viewers weren't ready to boycott. Perhaps it was vindication and proof that prime time is the place for such an event, live or not.

Not so fast, though.

If there was the notion that showing the ceremony live, much earlier than prime time, would harm the Canadian broadcast consortium that showed the event in this country, that notion is dead.

An average audience of 6.4 million watched the show and, overall, 16.6 million tuned in at some point, according to a media release from the broadcast consortium. The latter number, of course, is about half of everybody in Canada. Those are records for summer Olympic viewing in Canada, besting the opening ceremony for the 1996 games of Atlanta.

It's worth noting that measurements of audiences are, experts say, much more accurate than they were back in the days of the mid-nineties. Since the advent of a more technologically driven system a few years ago, ratings have been generally much bigger than they were before that system was adopted.

NBC's philosophy of delaying opening night gratification worked perfectly, they say.

"(It) is a great early sign that our strategy of driving people to watch NBC in primetime is working," NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus claimed.

If that is so, and that NBC couldn't care less about prevailing public opinion, then they do score a victory. But I can't think of a business anywhere whose strategies would include not caring what the customer wants.

Additionally, it could be argued that Canada's record audience showing proves that viewers will give you your big eyeball numbers no matter the time of day (at least, if it's a reasonable time of day - Beijing opening ceremonies drew just 1.8 million on average, with a 12 hour time difference in Toronto, 15 hours in Vancouver).

Could American television turn the same trick? Probably. But, I guess we'll never know, as long as networks like NBC are more interested in driving prime time numbers, while protecting the abilities of their affiliates to not pre-empt" The Nate Berkus Show."

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