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The Olympics Final Gold Goes to NBC

NBC
NBC

CNBC's parent company NBC Universal did quite well with the Olympics.

More than 211 million Americans watched the games -- that's more than 70 percent of the country -- making them the most-watched ever, beating the 209 million viewers who watched the 1996 Atlanta games. (Though it's worth noting there are more TVs out there now.)

And ratings were up, pretty much across the board: 7 percent higher than the 2004 Athens Olympics, while cable ratings were up 30 percent over Athens. This also helped NBC's flagship shows -- Nightly News ratings up 31 percent, Today show up 38 percent -- which I'm sure wil try to hold onto the gains.

It all comes down to the money, and NBC sold over $1 billion in advertising before the games began, selling another 25 million during the games to advertisers thrilled by the frenzy over Michael Phelps and the like, trying to get in on the action.

The real Olympic feat: the unprecedented amount of content posted online and the amount of people who clicked to its site. NBCOlympics.com attracted 50 million unique visitors and 10 million hours of video was watched online. There's no question, this broke all sorts of records for online broadcasting. NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker spoke to CNBC's Erin Burnett Monday, summing up what this Olympic games proves: "Digital content does not cannibalize television."

Zucker says this success will help the network figure out how to lead people to what they want to watch, when they want to want it. And that means not just on TV, but also online and on mobile.

With these strong numbers, when NBC's broadcasting contract for the Olympics expires in 2012, they're going to face some serious competition. Walt Disney's ESPN and News Corp.'s Fox both have said once the auction begins next year, they plan to bid for the 2014 Winter Games and the 2016 Summer Games.

The Olympics are clearly a valuable business for General Electric's NBC, but the question is how much it'll be worth paying. And with that over-the-top closing ceremony fresh in my mind, I've got to wonder if anything can live up to this summer's event.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.