NEW YORK (AP) — NBC is predicting strong interest in the London Olympics among television viewers, but said Wednesday the event probably won't scale the heights of the Beijing Games four years ago.
The 2008 Olympics stands as the most-watched event in U.S. television history on NBC and its cable networks, with an average of 27.7 million people who saw the prime-time telecast over 17 nights on NBC.
"I would love to match those numbers," said Mark Lazarus, NBC Sports Group chairman. "I think that's an unlikely scenario."
NBC noted there was a lot of interest in China to go along with the games, and a buzzed-about opening ceremony in 2008 averaged 34.2 million viewers. That set the 2008 games off on a solid start, and swimmer Michael Phelps' gold medal haul kept interest up.
A total of 215 million people in the United States watched some of the Beijing Games, Nielsen said. Top NBC researcher Alan Wurtzel said he expected the London Games to be one of the five most popular TV events on U.S. television, which would put its cumulative total of viewers around the 200 million mark.
"London is going to be huge," he said.
The London opening ceremony and the first three days of competition, which will include gymnastics, will set the tone of U.S. television interest, Wurtzel said.
NBC has promised to show every Olympics event online or on its networks, a total of 5,535 hours. Every competition will be streamed online. To see a vast majority of that coverage, viewers have to confirm they are cable or satellite customers.
The streaming is new for NBC, which in the past worried that showing online events that they might later show in prime-time would cut into the network's audience. Under its new Comcast ownership, the NBC executives now believe that the extra coverage will increase interest in the games.
NBC has also said it does not expect to turn a profit on the games given the high cost of doing business in London. Its executives said that while the network would be prudent in spending, they do not expect cuts that will be visible to viewers.