In Depth

Local Stations Bring Olympics Coverage Home

Among the hordes of journalists covering the Olympics starting Friday in Beijing are scores of people who understand that what this major international event breaks down to is a lot of local stories about neighbors reaching for Olympic gold.

WBAL-TV Olympics Coverage

LOCAL HEROES Hearst-Argyle stations such as WBAL-TV will be following athletes from their local markets, such as swimmers Michael Phelps and Katie Hoff.

Hearst-Argyle has been working for eight months to have a team of nine people—three correspondents, two producers and four photographers—in Beijing to provide five hours each morning of live shots, 90 seconds each, from the games for the group’s 26 owned and three operated local stations, not just NBC-affiliated stations. The team also will be blogging and producing stories for the stations’ Web sites and packaging stories to insert into the “O-Zone,” an access time-period program full of Olympics features and designed with a local content window built in.

“They work very, very hard,” said Hearst-Argyle News VP Brian Bracco.

LIN TV also is utilizing a team of six people to feed live shots, blogs, daily news stories and an hourlong special back to all the group’s stations, which share the cost of the undertaking.

Leading the team are three journalists from LIN’s WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The deployment of the team is not that expensive amortized over 17 markets, and it’s in keeping with the group’s general news philosophy of focusing on important content that has a local angle and is of benefit to the group’s markets, said Scott Blumenthal, LIN’s executive VP of television.

“You’ve got a program element that is dominating the airwaves for 18 days. It is who we are for that period of time,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “It makes it worth our while to present the best local and most market-oriented coverage we can. So we’re doing it.”

On NBCOlympics.com, five athletes from WOOD’s Western Michigan area are spotlighted under “local competitors,” along with a link back to WOOD’s Web site.

Marv Danielski, a Hearst-Argyle alumnus who is senior VP of integrated brand development for consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates, said aggressive and “functional” promotion of Web sites can leverage the Olympics brand into traffic that during the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics was much larger than their market.

The Web site of Hearst-Argyle’s WGAL-TV in Lancaster, Pa., the 41st-largest market in the country, outranked every other NBC-affiliated station’s site in page views during the Turin Games, Mr. Danielski said. He said six Hearst-Argyle stations ranked in the top 20 Web sites in terms of traffic, regardless of market rank.

Among the athletes Hearst-Argyle’s WBAL-TV will be following closely are swimmers Michael Phelps and Katie Hoff. The team will be tracking hopefuls in track and field, gymnastics and other sports from other Hearst-Argyle markets.

As of late last week, the NBC owned-and-operated stations’ local Olympics advertising time was said by a representative to be “virtually” sold out, with goals likely to be exceeded.

The Olympics can add up to 2% or 3% of a station’s annual revenues, say TV industry insiders familiar with the local landscape, which is stressed this year by a soft economy and a particularly noticeable decline in the major category of automobile advertising.

These insiders say stations that in the past expected a spike of 30% to 40% in ad revenue for the month of the Olympics might be looking at 20% to 25% increases this year.

During the Gannett earnings call for the second quarter on July 16, Gannett Chairman, President and CEO Craig Dubow said that while his stations’ Olympics sales momentum had begun to increase, it was running behind the pace for the group’s record levels of just under $29 million in third-quarter 2004. He blamed the softer ad market for fewer brand sponsorships having been “laid in ahead of time” this year.

Hearst-Argyle has said publicly that it expects to do a little better than the group did in 2004, when it netted out at around $17.5 million in Olympic revenue.

Kathleen Keefe, the Hearst-Argyle sales VP, said the group was booking a lot of local Olympics buys in mid and late July and “We will book right up to and through the Olympics.”
Most of the business will come from regular advertisers the stations have convinced to step up to bigger packages, but she remembers one big Atlanta Olympics package sold during her tenure as sales manager at KPRC-TV in Houston to local preacher Joel Osteen, who would become one of the biggest televangelists in the country.

“He was thrilled with it,” Ms. Keefe recalled.

However, the premium that accrues to the Olympics, with its improved demographics—higher-income, higher-educated people who don’t generally watch a lot of TV join the mix in big numbers—make it too big an investment for many local advertisers, even though spots get huge reach.

Still, the Games are likely to triple and quadruple prime-time demographic performances from their summer averages.

If Mr. Phelps starts racking up more gold medals, Ms. Keefe said, “I think we could have a frenzy.”

LIN’s Olympics inventory was not sold out as of late last week.

“It is selling maybe not as fast as it might have been in a [less tight] economy, but it’s selling well above what regular inventory is doing,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “We’re going to maximize the opportunity, that’s all.

“The Olympics is a tremendous platform. It’s also a premium platform. An Olympics sponsor really does benefit from it,” Mr. Danielski said. “The Olympics sponsor, whether on national or local level, really does generate goodwill, does reach people, reaches people on a very engaged level.”