Olympics Bring Eyeballs to NBC

Aug 23, 2004  •  Post A Comment

There may be a lot of empty seats at Olympics events in Athens, but viewers are packing the house for NBC.

During the first week of the Olympics, NBC’s ratings were up from the numbers recorded four years ago, when the Games were in Sydney, Australia, providing a pleasant surprise to many ad buyers. Viewership grew after the opening ceremonies, which in past years has been one of the highest-rated nights of the Olympics.

With Olympics programming also running on USA, Bravo, CNBC and MSNBC, NBC has been able to boast a much larger cumulative audience than in past years, justifying its multiplatform strategy.

“I’ve said all along that the additional platforms would create more exposure and interest for the prime-time network telecast. We certainly have seen evidence of that in the huge prime-time audiences we’ve seen to date,” said Randy Falco, president, NBC Universal Television Network Group.

Mr. Falco added that NBC will be “looking to expand and experiment with additional platforms in the future so we can keep pace with the ever-evolving way that people consume media.”

NBC had guaranteed advertisers a household rating higher than in 2000. At first, buyers thought that they’d be getting a small number of make-good ads, but by late in the week they expected NBC to be back in the market selling spots that had been reserved for make-goods, adding to the $1 billion in ads already sold.

Mr. Falco confirmed that NBC was freeing up inventory it had been holding in reserve. “Pricing has not been discounted and we have a wide range of new business, including studios and retail,” he said.

The performance outpaced ad buyers’ expectations.

“I didn’t see the buzz about this Olympics in the press, in the sports pages, on newscasts, so I figured this thing was going to come a cropper. So the fact that it’s doing as well as it is is pleasantly surprising,” said Jon Mandel, co-CEO of MediaCom.

“I’m very happy with it,” said Andy Donchin, director of national broadcast at Carat USA. “I’ve got a bunch of clients in there, and it’s doing well. I believe in the event, and I’m looking good to my clients.”

With the U.S. teams doing well in swimming and gymnastics, the first week of the Olympics was a big draw.

Through the first six days of coverage, NBC was averaging a 15.7 rating, up 11 percent from the first six days in Sydney. With broadcast prime time diving over the past four years, the gain is especially remarkable.

The pull of the Olympics may be strong enough to counter the increasing number of cable channels a broadcast network now competes with. NBC noted that these Olympics were outdelivering the four-network prime-time average by 142 percent, when the average viewer can choose from 100 channels, compared with a 135 percent gain in 1992, when the average viewer had 41 channels.

With few name athletes competing in track and field, week two may pose a challenge as far as maintaining the high ratings, some observers said.

Including cable, NBC said 159 million unduplicated viewers, or 58 percent of the U.S. population, had watched some of the Olympics coverage. That figure was up 11 percent from Sydney and was on pace to deliver more viewers than any non-U.S. Olympics ever.

Olympics coverage drove CNBC’s total day rating to a 0.21, more than double its ratings the previous week, and MSNBC’s ratings nearly doubled to a 0.30. Bravo’s ratings rose to a 0.24 from a 0.17. While USA, a latecomer to the Olympics party, had the highest ratings of any of NBC’s cable network for early morning and daytime events, its full-day ratings were unchanged from the previous week.

USA’s broadcast of the USA vs. Greece basketball game on Tuesday racked up 1.68 million viewers, the network’s best performance in the 3-5 p.m. time period since 1995. And Bravo racked up its best ever 5-8 p.m. slot when it showed the U.S. women in the gold medal saber match last Tuesday as 443,000 viewers tuned in.