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Olympics' TV ratings were worst in 30 years

Too much snow, not enough compelling stories and a less than stellar broadcast gave CBS the lowest-rated Winter Olympics in 30 years.

According to the preliminary final numbers released by CBS on Monday, the network got a 16.2/26 share for its prime-time coverage, 42 percent behind the 27.8/42 from Lillehammer and 13 percent off the 18.7/29 from Albertville.Nagano finished as the lowest-rated Olympics since 1968, when ABC got a 13.5 rating from Grenoble, France. The previous low also came in Japan, when NBC got a 17.2 from Sapporo in 1972.

More importantly, CBS' rating was 17 percent below the 19.5 that it guaranteed advertisers. The network was forced to run extra spots during the second week of the games, but still may need to provide further "make goods" to appease advertisers, who paid about $450,000 for a 30-second ad.

But in an increasingly fragmented TV landscape, the Olympics did provide a boost for CBS.

The Nagano Games were watched by an estimated 184 million viewers, tying it with Albertville for the third most-watched sports event in U.S. history. The 1996 Summer Games were watched by about 209 million people and the 1994 Winter Games by 204 million.

CBS also won 16 of the 17 nights in the crucial February "sweeps period," when local ad rates are set. It also provided a boost for local news and David Letterman's "Late Show," which beat Jay Leno for the first time since August 1995.

CBS' rating for the final two nights of coverage dipped to a Nagano-low of 11.9. Saturday night's coverage of the gold-medal hockey game between Russia and the Czech Republic got a 3.2/10 rating, considerably lower than the 4.9 from the U.S.-Canada game.

The final rating for the late-night show was a 3.0/12. But because CBS had eight hockey games that pushed the show to about 2 a.m., it is difficult to compare to the 5.0/20 from Lillehammer and was on the air until past 2 a.m. on the 6.2/17 from Albertville.

The weekend coverage finished at 5.3/14, 40 percent below the 8.9 from each of the past two Olympics.

TNT's afternoon coverage finished with a 1.2 rating, 45 percent lower than the 2.2 from Lillehammer and 50 percent lower than the 2.4 from Albertville.