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August 08, 2008

NBC opening ceremony rating predictions

It’s been four years.

That’s the rub.

Nowadays network executives bristle if you compare their program ratings to one year ago, let alone four. So what chance does the Olympics opening ceremony have to besting the viewership from the Summer Games opening ceremony from 2004? With all these cable networks, the Internet and DVRs keeping us like hyper, attention-deficit squirrels on Red Bull, button-mashing TV remotes and laptop keyboards...

A survey of broadcast network insiders predict about a 13.0 HH rating for tonight’s ceremony. That’s down 11% from four years ago. Some say even that is generous. NBC delayed broadcasting the ceremony by 12 hours so it will fit snugly in primetime (the unspoken rule: never ask Americans to stop working on a weekday before 6 p.m. -- we act like Jack Nicholson being interrupted at his typewriter in "The Shining"). Delay a broadcast in 2000 and it hardly impacted business. But in 2008, when viewers can watch live streams of the ceremony online from networks in other countries … it’s a gamble.

But then … this is in 2008's China, not 2004's Athens. Way more interesting. And in this case, the delay might actually help NBC. It’s allowed time for gushing reviews and luscious images of the event to saturate the media. Suddenly, an overblown parade of athletes in shiny tracksuits is starting to sound like the summer-hype broadcast equivalent of “The Dark Knight.”

In other words: nobody really knows.

So: If the opening ceremony manages a 13 HH, it’s a solid debut. If it matches Athens, it’s a victory. If it beats Athens, it’s a big headline. If it does below 13 … well, then NBC's all-American bummer continues.

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