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2008 Beijing Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony

Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images

All those fireworks were not for naught. Certainly, not from NBC's perspective.

Ratings for the network's coverage of the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony from Beijing were up nearly 20 percent over the 2004 Summer Games from Athens, NBC said today.

If the estimates hold, Friday's elaborate, made-for-HD spectacle will go down as the third highest-rated Summer Games opening ceremony on Nielsen Media Reseach record.

Since 1972, only the 1984 Los Angeles Games and the 1996 Atlanta Games earned higher opening-ceremony ratings, leading NBC to award the gold medal for a "non-U.S. Olympic Opening Ceremony" to Beijing.

With a 21.5 rating—actual viewership numbers were not yet available—the Beijing ceremony outdrew the Athens opener by 19 percent, and the 2000 Sydney one by 16 percent, the network said.

Among the nation's top TV markets, Friday night's marathon, which required four-and-a-half hours of airtime, performed best in San Diego, followed closely by West Palm Beach, Florida, and Sacramento, California.

On the Web side, NBC said its NBCOlympics.com site scored 70 million page views yesterday, more than two times the site's most-trafficked day for the Athens Games, likely a testament to both increased interest in the controversial Beijing Games, and overall increased Internet use since 2004.