NBC's Winter Olympics Vancouver next February might have had a slow start in terms of advertising sales -- but all that could be changing.
With a goal of more than $900 million in advertising sales -- as well as competing against other high-profile first-quarter sports TV inventory, such as the Super Bowl and the Bowl Championship Series -- NBC has its work cut out, especially with an economy still teetering in a recession.
Earlier this year, major Olympic advertiser Anheuser-Busch said it would cut its spend on TV by about half for the next two Olympics events on NBC. Also, Johnson & Johnson passed on the chance to renew its big $100 million global sponsorship deal with the International Olympic Committee.
Media agency executives have been estimating that NBC is now around 75% sold in the February event, which would be about 5% behind where it should be.
But all that might be shifting -- especially with the suddenly strong TV scatter market, which has seen double-digit price increases -- up by 25% in some cases -- over upfront pricing. CBS Corp., for one, has said it is getting TV media deals in the top $25 range.
"I would guess NBC is in better shape with Vancouver than it was two or three months ago," says Neal Pilson, president of Pilson Communications and former president of CBS Sports. The reason, says Pilson: "Sports [TV] has been selling well recently." NBC executives did not respond to inquiries by press time.
Executives say another positive for NBC comes from the fact that it will air in the North America time zone, versus that of six- to-nine-hour time differences in Turin, Italy in 2006. That means, in the U.S., much of the event can be seen live. Prime-time spots for the Winter Olympics can be in the pricey range of $650,000 to $800,000 for a 30-second commercial.
But a stronger prime-time ad market, and even a strong sports TV market, may not necessarily mean better Olympics advertising sales. The significantly higher price tag can be too much for many TV advertisers.
"The question is whether they can meld first-quarter [prime-time] scatter activity with the Olympics," said Aaron Cohen, chief media negotiating officer for Horizon Media, who notes that first-quarter scatter initially appears to be on the same strong price pace as that of the fourth quarter. "It absolutely could help them."
The Winter Olympics is still a female-oriented event, especially with much figure skating in prime-time. But increasingly, younger-skewing X game-style skiing and skating events are taking over. That means going after young-skewing advertisers: video games, movies, and soft drinks.
Horizon's Cohen believes more dot.com advertising might arise in the next few months with Web-only retailers. Zappos.com, a recent $1.2 billion acquisition of Amazon.com, just began to spend heavily on TV.
That said, there is still a lot of pressure on NBC with the Winter Olympics, says Cohen, because of the sizable amount of TV inventory -- across many dayparts -- that is still left to be sold.
The Winter Olympics generally pulls in less TV advertising than the stronger-rated Summer Olympics. It also goes up against stronger in-season prime-time programming than with the Summer Olympics.
The previous Winter Olympics in Turin in 2006 pulled in a total of $823 million in TV advertising -- $781 million for broadcast and $42 million for cable TV advertising, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
By way of comparison, the Summer Olympics in Beijing was at a total of $970 million -- $917 million for broadcast and $53 million for cable. Before Turin, the previous winter games in Salt Lake City grabbed a total of $772 million in TV advertising, $742 million in broadcast and $30 million in cable.
Rights fees have also climbed. According to TNS Media Intelligence, Winter Olympics TV license fees went from $510 million for Salt Lake City, to $613 million at Turin, to $820 million for Vancouver.