NBC, still working to sell about $150 million in Winter Olympics advertising, is launching a joint venture with affiliates to broadcast a daily local Olympic-themed show in access time periods during the Games this winter.
Gary Zenkel, who last week was named president of NBC Olympics, said the local show, called “The Olympic Zone,” will launch Feb. 8, the Wednesday before the start of the Winter Games in Torino, Italy. “Zone” is slated to air nightly except Sundays.
“It will provide us and our stations with a better lead-in. It’s an opportunity to drive incremental Olympics revenue and it’s an opportunity to drive more of a local association with the Olympics and extend that partnership deeper than it has ever been in the past,” Mr. Zenkel said.
NBC will provide affiliates with Olympics content from Torino for the hour-long show. Affiliates will be able to sell nine minutes of advertising per show, while the network retains one minute to sell. Advertising executives have been looking at NBC’s Olympic commercial inventory as a big factor in the first-quarter scatter market. Though the fourth quarter has proved to be stronger than expected, questions remain about how much money advertisers have to spend on television in the first quarter.
Mr. Zenkel said Olympics advertising is already more than 80 percent sold out, and “We are on pace with our sales projections and prior Olympics.” He added that a couple of big deals were on the way and that ultimately the games will be a financial success.
But some said it may be as challenging as landing a triple axel. “The Olympics have become a huge financial nut,” said Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer at Mediaedge:cia. Like other major events “it’s probably the last 10 percent that’s the biggest struggle.”
Mr. Scanzoni has clients negotiating Olympics deals with NBC and said the network is likely to be more accommodating than it has been during past Olympics to advertisers to get business done.
Still, he sees the Olympics as a bright spot for NBC.
“Since their prime-time schedule is faltering a bit, the Olympics is a way to package their other programs. It gives them a more competitive position in the first quarter,” he said.
The local show is based on a similar show aired during the 2002 games by Hearst-Argyle’s KCRA-TV, NBC’s affiliate in Sacramento, Calif., and on Olympic-themed Web sites in successful partnership with NBC and its affiliates.
Mr. Zenkel said KCRA’s show increased household ratings in its time period by 100 percent from the previous month and increased the price of commercials by 160 percent.
Elliott Troshinsky, president and general manger of KCRA, said, “It was a great lead-in for prime time.”
“It extends the local brand onto local TV stations and it’s good for cross-promotion; it’s good for convergent sales,” said Terry Mackin, executive VP of Hearst-Argyle and head of the NBC Affiliate Futures Committee.
Hearst-Argyle stations are sending a dozen staffers to Italy to cover the Olympics, including a production team working on “Olympic Zone.”
With the station already producing a large number of newscasts, adding an Olympics show wasn’t particularly difficult.
“Advertisers liked the environment, so it helped with our Olympics sales and it gave us an opportunity to localize what is traditionally an international event,” Mr. Troshinsky said.
He added that syndicators have been pretty cooperative in dealing with the schedule changes around the Olympics.
Already, “Olympic Zone” is set to be shown in about 70 percent of the country, with Hearst, Belo and Gannett signed on in addition to the NBC-owned stations.
Mr. Zenkel said that NBC will provide affiliates with about half the show’s content and that the stations will produce the rest. If an affiliate can’t produce its own content, NBC will provide enough material for a full program.
While the affiliates will have some choice about the content, some NBC-produced elements must be run, such as a preview of what’s coming up in prime time, presented by Bob Costas.
“It will be hosted by their local talent [and feature] their graphics, their brand, but some of this material will come from us, directly from Torino,” he said.
NBC Selling Broadband Olympics Spots
NBC and its affiliates will again partner on local Web sites featuring coverage of the Olympics, according to Gary Zenkel, president, NBC Olympics.
During the games from Torino, Italy, the sites will offer more video than the sites tied to the last Olympics offered, Mr. Zenkel said.
With broadband video being a hot commodity, Mr. Zenkel said NBC has already begun to sell broadband spots for the Olympics sites.
He said that video of Olympics competition will be available only on the national site, NBCOlympics.com, but, “Plenty of it will be promoted and linked from the local stations,” he said.
Local stations will be able to stream video they’ve shot of local athletes competing in the games and their families and other Olympic stories they’re covering.