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Advertisers still see gold in Games

Olympics delivering auds, but NBC prepared for shortcomings

Advertisers said Thursday that, contrary to press reports, the Olympic sky is not falling and they are essentially satisfied with ratings of the Sydney Games.

While there is no doubt that NBC will be hard-pressed to meet its Nielsen projections or ad guarantees, media buyers and industry analysts said the situation has been exaggerated.

“It’s unfair to compare the ratings to the Seoul Games since back then there were only three networks, cable television didn’t have original series and the Internet barely existed,” said TN Media’s Stacey Lynn Koerner. In addition, NBC has relegated some of its coverage to MSNBC and CNBC, splintering viewership further.

NBC boldly had projected a 17.5 primetime rating for its 17 nights of coverage — about on par with Seoul in 1988 (17.7) and Barcelona in 1992 (17.1), but well shy of Atlanta in 1996 (21.6). These numbers appear out of reach, barring any major storyline or scandal. Still, some are hopeful that ratings will bounce back a bit with glamour events in track and field still on tap.

Reparation likely

According to insiders, the net will have to offer advertisers “make-goods” if the Olympics average less than a guaranteed 16.1.

While NBC declined to comment on any make-goods, NBC Sports spokeswoman Cameron Blanchard said, “NBC was prepared for this and always takes care of its advertisers. Because we planned for it, we’ll be able to satisfy our advertisers without adversely affecting the viewing experience.”

While NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol vowed to air an average of only nine minutes of commercials per hour, NBC is averaging nearly 10 minutes per primetime hour through the first five days of its coverage, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

But, industry insiders said they are sure that “any audience deficiency will be taken care of by NBC,” most likely by giving make-goods within the Olympics rather than in the baseball playoffs or during high-profile specials.

“By increasing the commercial load during the Olympics, they’re trying to make good with advertisers in the environment in which they paid,” said Bob Flood, senior VP, Optimedia Intl.

Primetime performer

Others point to the fact that in the context of the primetime environment, the Olympics are doing proportionally better than they had done in past years.

“The Olympics continue to deliver higher numbers than average television,” said Bob Igiel, president, broadcast division, Media Edge.

According to Nielsen, the first six nights of the Sydney Olympics are averaging a 14.6 rating and 25 share in homes, off 12.5% in ratings from Seoul (16.7) and 23% behind Barcelona (19.0). As expected, the drop-off is much steeper (36%) when compared with the Atlanta Games (22.8), which got a big ratings spike in the States and featured lots of live competition.

The results are even bleaker in the demo department, where these Games (8.9 rating in 18-49) are off by 17% vs. Seoul (10.7), by 31% vs. Barcelona (12.9) and by 39% compared with Atlanta (14.5).

Wednesday, which included the men’s all-around gymnastics final, drew a 14.6/25 in homes on the heels of a strong 15.5/26 on Tuesday — Sydney’s highest ratings since the Opening Ceremony — for coverage that included the women’s gymnastics team final.

Wednesday juggernaut

Despite the grousing, the Olympics managed to crush everything in its path Wednesday, with NBC winning the night by 16 shares in homes and by 13 shares in 18-49.

“There are not many shows on TV that deliver those kinds of numbers,” said Igiel. “When ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ or ‘Survivor’ does those kinds of numbers everyone kisses their shoes.”

CBS’ “Big Brother” (4.2/13 in 18-49) fell by 24% vs. last week’s Wednesday outing in the demo (5.5/18), but was still the top-rated non-Olympics program of the night.

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