NBC's campaign touts its Games b'casts

NEW YORK — Eager for payback on its nearly $800 million 2004 Olympic investment, NBC kicked off its local ad sales campaign Tuesday, touting some 860 hours (and counting) of blanket coverage of the Athens Games across its broadcast and expanding cable footprint.

Prepping ad buyers, and local cable affiliates in particular, for its fifth consecutive Olympic broadcast marathon, Peacock is enlisting heavy cross-promotions between its cable (Bravo, MSNBC, CNBC) and broadcast (NBC and Telemundo) outlets to maximize live coverage of the games and effectively double its coverage over the 2000 Games.

NBC Cable alone will offer 450 hours of coverage and, in a wide-ranging local ad sales initiative, is offering local affils extensive marketing support to pump up advertiser interest in the Games.

A lot is riding on the Peacock’s Olympic allegiance. The network recently coughed up some $3.5 billion to secure U.S. broadcast rights to the Winter and Summer Games from 2006 to 2012, an investment company brass says is easily worth the hefty cost given the rapidly rising cost of sports rights.

Fall sked pumped

But with operating profits from this summer’s broadcast estimated at only around $50 million-$75 million, the real upside for NBC is the promotional adrenaline it offers for its fall 2004 schedule. One analyst speculated that as much as 25% of the total ad airtime available likely will be used for internal promotions.

Anxious to push up rates that media buyers say are trending flat, NBC’s full-court press to advertisers has begun in earnest, with spot promos popping up in select cities to hype the two-week-long sportathon that begins Aug. 13 and wraps up Aug. 29. According to Smith Barney estimates, the Summer Olympics in 2000 generated some $930 million in national and $340 million in local ad spending.

In a truly Olympian scheduling effort, Peacock planners have so far mapped out some 860 hours of total coverage over the two weeks in the back half of August. Unlike the Sydney Games in 2000, the 2004 event will be able to offer up more live coverage.

NBC network is skedded to offer up some 225 hours of coverage, including 70 in prime time. But the bulk of coverage will fall across the widening cable bouquet, with some 450 total hours, nearly 200 of which will be aired on Bravo and 250 hours on MSNBC.

Telemundo will broadcast between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. daily with mostly live coverage and an emphasis on Hispanic sports favorites like soccer and baseball. Likely to ease the concerns of affiliate stations, however, the second-ranked Spanish-lingo net will not be airing games in primetime.

USA may be involved

If NBC manages to close its Universal merger by the end of April, it’s also likely that USA Network will be picking up a large chunk of coverage, sources said.

NBC Cable networks prexy David Zaslav would only say that the group would certainly “look at opportunities” to use the Universal cable nets if and when the deal closes.

The addition of Bravo has significantly increased Olympic airtime, and the events slated for the artsy net — heart-stoppers like sailing, water polo, equestrian events, archery and tennis — are intended to match its upscale demographic skew.

Bravo coverage will kick off at 5 a.m. (4 a.m. on weekends) and run to noon, picking up again at 4 p.m. through 8 p.m. and broadcasting the selected “Match of the Day” between midnight and 2 a.m.

Biz news net CNBC, broadcasting 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., will cater to a predominantly male audience, featuring sports such as boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling and extensive live coverage of team sports.

Brian Hunt, VP of affiliate ad sales and promotions for NBC Cable Networks, trumpeted the unprecedented viewing power of the games, which hit during the usual summer network doldrums ratings-wise.

Company says the two-week games, with 339 million gross household impressions, are the ratings equivalent of eight Super Bowls.

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