By Brian Steinberg
Early social-media brickbats thrown at NBC Universal over its Summer Olympics broadcast aren’t likely to have a radical effect on the company’s plans for covering the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi.
The Comcast-owned company has quietly sold around $200 million worth of advertising for its 2014 broadcast, said Seth Winter, exec VP, sales and marketing, NBC Sports Group, in an interview.
"The London Games created an enormous amount of credibility in the way we’ve programmed the event," said Mr. Winter, alluding to NBCUniversal’s practice of delaying broadcast of certain events for U.S. prime time on TV, a technique that has received a fair amount of criticism on Twitter. At the same time, ratings for the Olympics broadcasts have surpassed expectations — even NBC’s internal ones, Mr. Winter said.
"The impact of social media and the collective viewer awareness at all times of the day drives people to the more familiar, lean-back environment of prime-time viewership," he said. "We think we’ve really hit on something, and our advertisers recognize that. If there were a modicum of concern regarding the impact of live streaming on television, we have completely eradicated that."
Mr. Winter expects his Sochi sales process — already under way for a few months — to gain momentum, thanks to NBCU’s ratings performance for its broadcast of the current summer event.
The company said the first 11 nights of its Olympics broadcasts, which have been distributed across multiple networks owned by Comcast’s NBC Universal, have had an average viewership of 33.1 million. That figure would be the most of any non-U.S. Summer Olympics since the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the company’s sports unit detailed in a press announcement. The 33.1 million is 3.5 million more viewers than Beijing, which captured an average of 29.6 million, and nearly 7 million more viewers than Athens, which drew an average of 26.2 million.
While the notion of selling ad time for an event not slated to take place until 2014 may on the surface sound odd, the fact is most TV networks spend months building support for their marquee broadcasts. With the ratings of the Super Bowl on the rise in recent years, NBC, Fox and CBS have often begun their sales processes even before the Super Bowl game prior to theirs is broadcast. "The Olympics sales process never goes dormant," said Mr. Winter. "There are different levels of activity and different stages."
Mr. Winter declined to name advertisers who have already signed up, citing sponsors’ desire not to divulge marketing strategy too early.
The company is likely to intensify its Sochi efforts in September and into the fourth quarter, when it can call on potential clients with research culled from its current London effort. And it may seek to package 2014 Winter Olympics sales with ad inventory from NBC’s projected 2015 telecast of the Super Bowl, the executive said.