The Olympics apparently failed to capture the public's imagination this time around - both Internet and TV audiences did not live up to expectations. But that shortfall didn't seem to hurt advertising revenue, with National Broadcasting Co. (NBC) bringing in some $900 million, far surpassing the TV ad dollars generated during previous games.
According to Nielsen Media Research, an average of only 14 million households watched the Olympic Games on television an evening, down almost 20 percent from NBC's numbers during the Barcelona Olympics.
Compared with the TV ratings, one could say the Internet was the real Olympics winner. But the numbers don't entirely live up to bear this out. During the course of the entire Olympic Games, only about 2.6 million Americans surfed the NBCOlympics.com Web site from home, while 1.8 million visited the site from work, according to Nielsen NetRatings (NTRT) . Even fewer Americans went to the official Web site of the International Olympic Committee - some 1.7 million people surfed the site from home and 1.1 million from work.
But among those who did turn out to see the Olympics unfold on the Web, quality time was invested in doing so. Compared with the less than 10 minutes surfers usually spend on the top 25 sites overall, at-home visitors to NBCOlympics.com stayed an average of more than 17 minutes. Similarly, at-home visitors to Olympics.com stayed for more than 18 minutes.
Not surprisingly, gymnastics and swimming were the most popular sports online. Traffic to NBCOlympics.com peaked Sept. 20, the day U.S. swimmer and schoolmate of Chelsea Clinton, Misty Hyman, unexpectedly won gold in the women's 200-meter butterfly. On Sept. 21, when the women's team gymnastics final was aired on television, NBCOlympics.com drew 307,000 unique visitors at home and 323,000 visitors at work.
Global traffic numbers for Olympics.com, calculated and released by host IBM, were more robust than those for the U.S. IBM Corp. counted some 8.5 million unique visitors to Olympics.com, and noted that almost half of those visitors came from the U.S. NBCOlympics.com has not yet released internal traffic reports.
While Sydney marks the first real Web Olympics, the traffic numbers reveal the Games have yet to become a Net phenomenon.
"People went into this Olympics hoping for astronomical numbers on the Web, but didn't take into consideration that it's one of countless [media] options people have to choose from," says Nielsen NetRatings analyst Allen Weiner.
Nevertheless, he sees reasons for optimism about the future of the Games online. "NBCOlympics.com drawing in excess of 130 million page views proves that this concept works."
Indeed, Sydney 2000 may go down in history as the first Web Olympics, but the best is clearly yet to come.