The Olympics are less than a month away -- and NBC Universal sports chief Dick Ebersol has been speaking about more than the majesty of figure skating or intensity of hockey. There was the much-publicized rebuke of NBC late-night host Conan O'Brien. And now, he's expressed frustration with his ultimate boss, General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt.
In comments published Wednesday in The New York Times, Ebersol suggested Immelt's statements last month that GE would lose $200 million on the Vancouver Olympics has affected the sales process.
Immelt, who runs a company with $17 billion in profits, was somewhat casual in his December prediction, referring to a probable loss of "a couple hundred million bucks."
But Ebersol told the Times: "When you say something like that, advertisers think they'll get a bargain, and we've told them there aren't any." Ebersol added that he wished Immelt had made the revelation at the end of January, "so it didn't cause any disruption of sales." Immelt had said NBCU's sales team would do a good job, "but it's just a more difficult sales environment for a big event."
On Ebersol's end, he is likely to have a new top boss in Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, once the cable operator takes over NBCU in about a year. GE controls NBCU, but will be a minority owner then.
Ebersol's commentary comes from someone known, in part, for diplomacy. His relationships with the oft-recalcitrant International Olympic Committee have led to lengthy rights deals and last summer in Beijing, swimming events being held at times preferable for NBCU.
Ebersol's frustration with Immelt came days after he told the newspaper that O'Brien has been an "astounding failure" as host of "The Tonight Show." Ebersol has experience in late night at NBC, having worked on "Saturday Night Live." He apparently is an advisor in running the daypart.
He added that a reason for O'Brien's lackluster ratings and firing from the 11:30 time slot and "Tonight Show" was a failure to "broaden the appeal of his show." Ebersol said he had advised O'Brien to remember there are viewers in places like Chicago and Des Moines, and not just on the coasts. He was "stubborn," Ebersol added.
The Times noted Ebersol's comments about NBC's late-night imbroglio were intended as a defense against criticism leveled at NBCU CEO Jeff Zucker and O'Brien's replacement, Jay Leno.