Olympic Ratings Auspicious, Ads Augur Mixed Results

Comcast executives had to be celebrating Sunday morning. Or exhaling. There was some early validation that the company’s massive investment to secure Olympic rights through 2020 might be worth it.

Prime-time viewership and household ratings came in way above the 2008 Beijing Games for the first night of competition, according to NBC. More encouraging news came Monday as numbers showed night two delivered very strong viewership and household ratings were 9% higher than Beijing.

If the numbers continue to top Beijing, or even slightly trail, that would be auspicious for NBC. It would be a signal that in this new instant-consumption landscape, the Olympics continue to have appeal in the way they have for decades. The good old model of families sitting around the TV set watching in prime time would appear to still be  powerful and should persist for at least another eight years.

Whether the coverage is live or not. Whether the results are widely known because smartphones are ubiquitous. Whether the kids who will become adults by 2020 barely watch TV anymore.



The London prime-time ratings have come despite time-delayed broadcasts. (Beijing had swimming and other high-profile events live in the evenings.) And, the high numbers have come despite NBC making all events live hours before on

So, time differences might be conquerable, which would be a propitious sign for the Winter Games in Russia in two years. In the meantime, anticipation for the Rio Summer Games in 2016 should be soaring higher at NBC every day. The Brazilian city has a mere one-hour time difference from New York.  

You want Ryan Lochte or Usain Bolt going for gold in real time? Tune in to NBC.  

If the International Olympic Committee opts to put either the 2018 or 2020 Games in the Western Hemisphere – one could argue Comcast is owed that – then the company’s $4.4 billion deal will look even better.

NBC says it expects to lose money on London. So far, though, it has to be pleased with the ad sales dynamic. Not just the amount it has secured, but ratings are coming in higher than the 15.3 estimate (average household prime-time rating) that the network floated to advertisers. If that trend continues, NBC won’t have to offer make-goods in “Sunday Night Football” or elsewhere.

There is the chance that the Olympics could prove to be a loss leader for NBC. The Olympics get a lot of attention when NBC loses money. That seems a bit unfair. There seems to be little pressure on CBS to comment on any losses with March Madness or every network with the NFL.

If somehow NBC can use the London Games as a promotional platform that brings higher ratings in the fall, the investment should more than pay for itself. Of course, programming would need to keep any high viewership that promos in the Olympics deliver. And, NBC hasn’t exactly done well there seemingly since “Friends” went away.

This is not a profound statement. But the London ratings seem to be a signal that there indeed are separate factions in the U.S.: the passionate technophiles and everyone else (which include people who might appreciate a smartphone, but don’t feel tethered to it).

Over the weekend, NBC's Olympic coverage generated a rash of social media complaints from the techie crowd. The group didn’t like the problems with the online streaming, the buffering and such. Absolutely fair. NBC should have been better prepared, but likely has addressed the matter (it has a lot of ad dollars riding on clean feeds).

The Twitterati also didn’t like that NBC was airing top-tier events on tape delay in prime time. Really?

Dear folks: you are absolutely spoiled. Get over it.

You need a job, so you understand the concept of profits. Like it or not, NBC is a business and would sacrifice ad dollars if everything were broadcast live on TV.

Would you really make a different decision if you had a nice office in 30 Rock?

C'mon, NBC is allowing you to watch the events live online. You don’t have to wait for the action. Your bosses probably won't mind at work. Tell them Phelps is going for gold and they'll tune in.

Critics arguing NBC hasn’t recognized how the new-media world operates are way off track. With the all-encompassing streaming -- every single event via -- it has adapted with aplomb.

(Yes, some of the online feeds don't have announcers, but others do. Maybe the quiet is a blessing.)

The days of plausibly live and truly having to wait to watch the Olympics are long gone. Stop complaining and hook up to your big-screen TV. You have enough time to express anger on Twitter, so you should have enough to figure that out.

The non-techie crowd -- those without broadband -- have some reason to complain. You do not.

Going forward, will London ratings continue to shine? Some might argue Michael Phelps getting smoked Saturday in his first race and failing to medal was a negative. His shot at another sweep of golds was gone.

Consider the opposite. Pathos could emerge. If Phelps stumbles a couple of more times (he got a relay silver on Sunday), ratings could do well as viewers tune in to pull for him to go out on top.

NBC’s coverage so far has brought a realization how great a gig Bob Costas has. He doesn't have the challenge of calling an event from the play-by-play perch. He mainly plays traffic cop in the studio, directing viewers from one event to the other.

“Gymnastics competition is heating up, now back to the pool, where a young American is seeking her first medal” is pretty standard fare. The interviews he has done – so far – haven’t been particularly challenging.

The most interesting moment may have been when Costas played good corporate soldier and tried to address questions why Ryan Seacrest is part of NBC’s coverage. After Seacrest did a piece on Phelps, Costas offered the justification – hard to believe he believed it -- that Seacrest can bring viewers true breakout insight into what athletes are really like.

Costas is a very talented play-by-play announcer. It's a shame he doesn't call any premier events.

As for the advertising, so far it feels a bit lacking. Too many ads with faux "USA athletes," which seem to run together. Even official Olympic sponsors may be wise to take another tack.

Subway needs to get rid of that ugly green background, even if it is promoting avocado sandwiches.

The BP ad featuring moms and coaches behind star athletes is good, but runs too often. And one keeps thinking BP ads somehow are trying to make up for polluting the Gulf Coast.

Interesting is how NBC has worked with sponsors to capitalize on tape-delay coverage to decide when to air ads. In the pod Saturday after Lochte was seen winning gold, he was featured in two ads for P&G and one for AT&T. After winning silver on Sunday, an ad for AT&T followed.

Also Sunday, gymnast Jordyn Wieber suffered a crushing defeat when not qualifying for a coveted competition. So, NBC ran a P&G ad with her a long time before that.

Separately, P&G ran a terrific, stirring ad for Secret with gymnast Alicia Sacramone, who actually failed to make the Olympics. As narrator, she recounted how she fell off the beam in the 2004 Games and wanted to hide. But, she returned and casting aside fear ("fearlessness" is a tag for Secret) almost made the team this time.   

Perhaps the best ad wasn’t seen nationally. Coming during the Opening Ceremony in the New York market, the touching spot featured a young girl telling how hospitals felt they couldn’t treat her cancer and sent her to another. New York-Presbyterian Hospital took her case and a physician performed what seems like an amazing surgery.

“He took all my organs out and put the ones that I needed back in and I was better and I was just so happy to be better and cancer-free,” she says. “That’s pretty much my story.”

(Do a YouTube search for “Heather McNamara commercial.” Your day will be better).

Hopefully, some other superb ads will emerge as the next couple of weeks go forward. NBC wants viewers to embrace the advertising, which can bring high effectiveness metrics that can lead to more dough. Still, ratings trump Clio Awards as far as it is concerned.    








2 comments about "Olympic Ratings Auspicious, Ads Augur Mixed Results ".
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  1. pj bednarski from, July 30, 2012 at 5:28 p.m.

    I think the chair Bob Costas is in is too big. I don't mean that metaphorically.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 30, 2012 at 6:49 p.m.

    This is one of the best reviews I have heard or read.

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