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NBC researchers discovering new media trends

Aug. 13, 2008, 8:31 p.m. (ET)

NEW YORK (AP) About half of the people who are using mobile phones to pull down video or information about the Olympics have been trying out that technology for the first time, NBC said Wednesday.

NBC Universal has been using the Olympics as something of a research lab to track the adoption of new media technology. Since the opening ceremony last Friday, the company has made content available online, through video on demand and via cell phones along with traditional TV.

The number of people requesting Olympic content over their phones is still relatively small - 494,506 on Sunday and 476,062 on Monday - but NBC executives say they're stunned at how many of those never used the phones for this purpose before.

"To some extent, the Olympics are beginning to influence how people use new technology," said Alan Wurtzel, research president for NBC Universal.

By far, however, television is still the preferred format. Of the estimated 107 million people to experience at least a few minutes of the Olympics on Sunday, 95 percent watched it on TV, NBC said.

Given the choice between a high-definition TV placed before a couch or a small, grainy picture on a computer screen, it's still a pretty obvious call, Wurtzel said.

NBC's prime-time ratings are running well ahead of the Athens games in 2004. Through five days, the average prime-time viewership for NBC is 31.3 million, the network said. Interest in Athens started slowly but heated up with gymnastics, while the Beijing games have been a draw from the start.

It has become a communal event that the country has enjoyed sharing, Wurtzel said, a rarity in the day of media fractionalization.

"I don't think you're going to see too much of this in the future," he said.

Americans downloaded some 1.7 million video streams of Monday's stunning swimming relay where the American team came from behind to beat France and keep Michael Phelps' gold medal streak alive. An estimated 1.5 million video streams were e-mailed from one person to another, Wurtzel said.

NBC Universal worried in past Olympics years that its decision to air much of the Olympics on cable outlets like CNBC, MSNBC and USA would siphon interest from prime-time, which is still where the network earns the bulk of its advertising revenue.

But the opposite proved to be true and, this year, the same thing has happened with the digital content, said Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics.