Internet

Web scoring silver to TV's Olympic gold

Traffic at official Winter Olympics Web sites jumps substantially as the Games progress, but it remains a footnote compared with TV viewership.

TV network NBC and its online affiliate scored an early Olympics hit, according to audience measurement firms, which on Monday reported a record TV audience and increased Web traffic tied to the commencement of the Games in Salt Lake City.

Traffic at official Winter Olympics Web sites jumped substantially this weekend but remained a footnote compared with TV viewership. The Olympics drew 72 million TV viewers for the opening ceremonies Friday night--the largest ever for the event, according to audience measurement firm Nielsen Media Research.

Official site NBCOlympics.com saw 398,000 unique visitors Saturday, up from 267,250 Friday, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. Olympics.com, the other official site, saw 225,581 viewers Saturday, compared with 143,127 Friday.

MSNBC, a joint venture between NBC and Microsoft, is hosting Olympics.com. NBCOlympics.com supports U.S. television coverage.

The numbers underscore the substantial gap between television and the Web as a mass entertainment medium, a divide that has in part kept mainstream programming such as live video broadcasts of Olympics events off the Net for now.

Web backers said the medium still offers some advantages over television, however, such as the ability to search for specific Olympic-related content, as well as freedom from set schedules and the ability to offer equal coverage for events regardless of popularity.

"The 2002 Winter Games are off to a nice start with every indication that it will be a solid event with Web participation," Allen Weiner, vice president and principal analyst at NetRatings, said in a statement. "The Olympics information on the Web will play a complementary role to the daily coverage playing out on television."