Commentary

Torino Olympics Lacks An American Star Thanks To 'American Idol'

Perhaps Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson should be on the box of Wheaties after these Winter Olympics are over.

Considering the damage "American Idol" has inflicted on NBC's Olympics, the hosts of "Idol" would all be contenders for big marketing sponsorship deals. The show's monstrous ratings have made it --not the Olympics athletes--the real marketing story.

The Torino Olympics themselves aren't helping.

Marketing executives are complaining U.S. competitors are a boring lot this year. No one has won multiple gold medals, some have been surly, and others haven't lived up to expectations.

"It's probably the most hyped and most disappointing Olympic team we've had," Bob Williams, the president of Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing, toldThe New York Times.

Further proof comes from Nielsen's TV ratings, as ratings are down steeply versus the last two Winter Games in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Nagano, Japan in 1998--though some of this was expected.

Here are the explanations: Salt Lake City was a U.S.-based event; typically Olympics from a U.S location always do well. Eight years ago. Nagano's ratings were better than Torino's. But eight years ago everything on TV had better ratings.

Most of all, it's about "Idol." The show is getting increasingly stronger against the games. One Wednesday night of this week, for example, "Idol" posted a bone-crushing 13.4 rating among adult 18-49 viewers, against the Olympics 4.0 rating. That's a beating of over 300 percent. For the night the Olympics posted 4.5/11 in 18-49 and 15.5 million viewers overall, the lowest on record for the Winter Olympics.

This isn't supposed to happen to the most expensive TV rights sporting event in the world, where NBC pays anywhere from $600 million to $800 million for the 16-day sports event. Sure, a show may just edge the Olympics now and then. But it's not supposed to get trashed by a bunch of amateur performers.

Then again, in an earlier life Olympics athletes were also amateurs.

Perhaps the Olympics should go back to that. Speed skaters, skiers, and snowboarders could fall more often, be a little less polished, and offer up more humble stories of success. If all else fails, they could sing, off-key, the theme from "Rocky."

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