The broadcasts of the Summer Games in Beijing present a significant challenge to NBC Universal: to measure for advertisers who is watching and when.
The Nielsen overnight ratings estimate that nearly 17 million American households tuned in to watch the tape-delayed opening ceremonies Friday. That's 19 percent more than the 2004 Athens Games.
Still, viewers have a variety of ways to keep track of the action, whether it's online, on a mobile device or on the TV set at home — or maybe in a bar.
"There's no standardized measuring system for measuring everybody," says Brian Steinberg, television editor for Advertising Age magazine. As technology offers new ways to view content, he says high-profile events such as the Olympics put audience measurement tools to the test.
"A person who watches gymnastics online or at a bar isn't the same kind of viewer who is watching on a big-screen TV at home," he says.
Steinberg says the challenge is for NBC to gauge a more diffuse audience. If it can't guarantee a certain number of viewers, then it may have to offer the advertiser more ad time, or, in an extreme case, refund an advertiser's money.
"No one likes that. Advertisers want to make sure that their message [reaches] the people they want to reach and they want certain guarantees," Steinberg says. "So you want to make sure you're connecting with who you're supposed to."
The bottom line: NBC has to prove to advertisers that they are getting their money's worth in uncertain economic times, he says.