Why the Winter Olympics beat American Idol's ratings

The Winter Olympics beat the US audience ratings of TV's most popular show, American Idol – a feat no other TV show has done in six years. That popularity extends worldwide with a record 82 countries participating, including newcomers from Pakistan to Peru.

Odd Andersen/AP
Revellers are seen in Robson square after Canada played USA in Icehockey at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia on Sunday.

OK, so we know what Canadians think about their Games. But the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – which is more biased, or less, depending on how you look at it, is also quite pleased with the popularity of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

According to IOC data, these Games are on track for record audiences – that includes TV and digital broadcasting. In addition to the opening ceremonies capturing the attention of three times more Canadians than when they hosted the Games in 1988, Olympics coverage also did what no TV show has been able to do in six years – beat American Idol’s ratings last Wednesday night. The Olympics were seen by 30.1 million people, while 18.4 million watched American Idol, according to the Nielsen Company.

Maybe that’s partly because Canadian expectations were so high for their countrymen winning medals – or, to put it in the new Canada speak, “owning the podium.” Or maybe it’s because the US has rented that podium out from under its northern neighbor with an unexpectedly impressive string of medal-winning performances.

But Olympic popularity goes beyond the US and Canada. In China, Japan, and South Korea, more people have tuned in to these Games than in 2006 or 2002, according to the IOC.

The Olympics may also be drawing modest audiences from six countries that are participating in the Games for the first time: the Cayman Islands, Colombia, Ghana, Montenegro, Pakistan and Peru. But with their involvement, a record 82 countries are taking part in everything from alpine skiing to speed skating.

In fact, alpine skiing may take the gold for most nations represented, with competitors from 73 countries including Ghana, Morocco, Senegal, Pakistan, and Iran.

With all those countries taking part, and so many people watching, the IOC is no doubt relieved that not one of the 1,419 doping tests conducted so far – already double the number conducted in Salt Lake eight years ago – has resulted in a competition ban.

Those are all trends worth continuing.

Follow Christa as she tweets throughout the Games. You can also follow her on Facebook.

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