As the Athens Olympics were winding down, NBC was putting the word out that its strategy of spreading an unprecedented 1,200 hours of Olympics programming over nearly all of its TV platforms drove viewers to its prime-time programming and boosted its cable networks, stations, news shows and even “Access Hollywood.”
Randy Falco, president of NBC Universal Television Networks Group, said he expected the Olympics boost to carry through after the closing ceremonies. “For 17 days of these Olympics, just about every American has been shopping in our store and sampling our goods, and it’s up to us to make sure they come back after the Games,” he said.
The NBC networks combined had drawn 193 million viewers, up 10 percent from the 2000 Sydney Games.
NBC is also proud as a peacock about the bottom line. Network executives said the Games are on target to generate a profit of $60 million to $70 million-as much as $20 million more than expected when the Games started. Higher-than-forecast ratings allowed NBC to sell additional ad time, accounting for the added revenue.
Through last Wednesday, NBC had a 15.8 national rating and 27 share, up 9 percent from the Sydney Games. The Games were on track to be the highest-rated Olympics not staged in the United States.
Mr. Falco pointed to Nielsen tracking data that showed that the multiplatform strategy helped increase NBC’s prime-time rating. The figures showed that 54 percent of the viewers watching CNBC and Bravo in the afternoon switched to NBC once the cable coverage of the Olympics ended. And even though they had to compete against prime-time Olympics coverage, most of the NBC Universal networks did better on a full-day basis in the adult demographics during the Olympics than they did during the summer excluding the Olympics. (Their household ratings numbers were unchanged.)
An exception was USA Network, which has been the top-rated basic cable network during the summer and among the leaders in adults 18 to 49 and 25 to 54. It was off 1 percent in 18 to 49s and 2 percent in 25 to 54s. “We’ve exposed [viewers] to the different parts of the NBC family through promotion and through programming. We’ve got to make sure we continue that integration,” Mr. Falco said.
That will help both NBC’s new season shows, which are scheduled to premiere after the end of the Games, and shows that have been promoted on the cable networks, including USA’s “Monk” and Bravo’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and “Celebrity Poker.”
But other broadcasters said they weren’t hurt as badly by these Games as in past years.
Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer at Turner Broadcasting, said his analysis shows that 41 percent of the increases being registered by NBC in prime time during the Olympics were coming from increased use of television. HUT and PUT levels were up 3.3 ratings points.
Mr. Wakshlag said 28 percent of the ratings gain came from the other six broadcasters and 17 percent came from ad-supported cable networks.
The Olympics drew a bigger share of 18- to 49-year-olds to TV. Cable viewers accounted for 21 percent of the viewers in the 18 to 49 demo that NBC picked up while the other six broadcasters lost 18 percent of the viewers in the demo shifting the NBC.
CBS executive VP for research and planning David Poltrack said the Athens Games put a smaller dent in his network’s ratings than in past years. “We’re holding up fairly well against the Olympics,” he said, pointing to a 10 percent to 11 percent drop in household ratings and a 6 percent to 8 percent decline in demos. “In the past, we’ve lost 20 to 25 percent,” he said.
Mr. Poltrack said the shows that were doing best tended to be the younger-skewing reality shows, such as “Big Brother” and “Amazing Race.” But he noted that CBS had the top 10 non-Olympics programs during the week ended Aug. 22 and that “Law & Order” fans who didn’t watch parts of the Olympics were probably drawn to reruns of CBS’s franchise shows, including “CSI” and “Cold Case Files.”
During daytime, ABC said, its soap operas added women 18 to 49 and beat Olympics coverage in the demo, delivering 1.31 million women compared with 1.28 million on NBC. ABC launched a campaign designed to lure viewers to ABC’s daytime programs while NBC’s soaps were pre-empted.