Mar 29, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The airing of Olympics coverage on CNBC and MSNBC in the year 2000 seemed like a huge opportunity for local cable operators but ended up being a slow race for the gold, at least in the New York market.
Will things be different for this year’s event? It’s too soon to tell, based on comments from local sales reps, many of whom are enthusiastically putting plans together for the world’s largest multisport showcase, scheduled to take place this August in Athens, Greece.
When operators had their first crack at Olympic buys in the summer of 2000, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems were the last multiple system owners to sign affiliation deals for NBC’s cable coverage. The deals were signed less than a month before the Olympic flame was lit in Sydney, Australia, leaving little time to sell local avails or run extensive consumer marketing campaigns.
Two years later, with the Winter Games on U.S. soil and live coverage on the same pair of NBC-owned networks, operators did sell time but didn’t complement that effort with a full-blown promotion drive. Sales were fair but not as high as they could have been with a higher public profile generated through constant cross-channel spots, billboards and bus and subway posters blanketing the area.
In the past NBC was reluctant to spread its top Olympic events around the cable dial, and viewers were reluctant to expand their search for Olympics action to cable. All that is beginning to change.
“There was a feeling that cable wasn’t getting the best Olympic stuff,” said Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau Local Sales and Marketing VP Kevin Barry. “There was no selling or promotion motivation. It takes a while for people to let go of their inertia about this. This time, the expectations are better.”
Rainbow Ad Sales President David Klein agreed that the cable marketing push for past Olympics was relatively slight. “In revenue terms, it [hasn’t been] a windfall for us. It’s incrementally OK. The game plan is to sell it this time as a big event,” Mr. Klein said.
The environment is there for Big Apple systems to make more Olympics hay in 2004. Bravo joins CNBC and MSNBC as an outpost for Olympics events and more local avails. NBC released a new local sales kit two months ago and held a press event to build interest among operators. And there may be a last-minute bonus in the form of qualifying events for the U.S. Olympics team, again with local avails, on USA Network-if NBC completes its acquisition of USA, Sci Fi Channel and other Vivendi Universal assets in time.
Time Warner Cable Ad Sales President Larry Fischer said his firm will be more aggressive in selling Olympics time, and what comes from his colleagues in marketing and promotion will be a more-than-adequate complement. Sponsorship offers will include tags in cross-channel promotions. “You’ll see a lot more action in opportunities,” Mr. Fischer said. “I intend to be a lot more successful in this area this year.”
One strategy under consideration at Comcast is to produce and air Olympic moment-type messages before the games, featuring athletes with roots in the metro area. Marketing and promotion plans are also in development, said Ed Mazzella, Comcast Spotlight’s local VP and general manager.
“There’s a lot of opportunity there,” Mr. Mazzella said. “Some sort of tie-in with local participants may draw the most successful ad sales.”
Local cable overbuilder RCN’s Olympics plans also are in drawing-board mode. “There will be a package and we’ll push it very strong,” said Todd Donnelly, CEO of local sales rep ViaMedia.