Did one billion people really watch Yao Ming and Lebron James on Sunday? (Reuters Photo)
The 12-hour time difference between Beijing and New York limited the potential audience. The game was played at 10 p.m. Beijing time so it could be shown live in the morning hours across the U.S. According to AGB Nielsen Media Research, a television-tracking company, about 89 million people in China watched at least part of the game, the average audience was 37 million. That’s more than tuned in for any game played by Chinese star Yao Ming in the NBA this year, but it wasn’t even the biggest audience for an Olympic event that day: Chinese weightlifter Long Qingquan’s gold-medal victory beat out China’s 31-point loss. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the game averaged 11.5 million viewers, “pretty good for a Sunday morning basketball game,” NBC Sports spokesman Adam Freifeld told me.
These TV numbers are estimates, of varying accuracy. In the U.S., Nielsen takes steps to cover the entire country, though some viewers, such as those at sports bars — presumably a small group on Sunday mornings — remain elusive. In China, the Nielsen numbers are based on 14 provinces and cities nationwide. Globally, numbers are harder to come by, with most countries not yet measured reliably. As I’ve written before, claims of TV audiences topping a billion usually are mere hyperbole.
It’s not clear where the estimate of one billion TV viewers originated. It may have been one of those numbers tossed out, casually and imprecisely, and seized