Surge in ad dollars called a 'milestone'

Bucking the general downtrend in TV ad sales, Madison Avenue has bought more than $1 billion in advertising time in advance of the 3,600 hours of coverage NBC Universal outlets will devote to the Beijing Olympic Games, beginning tonight with the Opening Ceremony.

Calling the $1 billion gross a “milestone,” NBC senior veep of sales and marketing Seth Winter said the record advertising outlay reinforces his conviction that “the Olympics is one of the most powerful properties in all of television.” He added that NBC expects to “write more business” with advertisers over the next two weeks.

The Peacock hit about $1 billion in ad revs for the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, but that was with the Games completed and all revenues toted up. This year NBC U has hit $1 billion but could still sell considerably more, especially if ratings are very good the first few nights.

NBC U is reportedly charging about $750,000 for each 30-second NBC spot in live events, which are less likely to be TiVo’d and played later for zap-the-commercials viewing.

NBC said it saw a surge in ad dollars thanks to the solid ratings chalked up by the Olympic trials for swimming, gymnastics and track & field, which averaged better numbers (peaking at about 8 million viewers) than similar televised trials leading up to the 2004 Olympics.

Advertisers also took note of the way NBC showcased such high-visibility athletes as Michael Phelps, Dara Torres, Tyson Gay and Shawn Johnson during the trials. Star athletes generate bigger Nielsen ratings.

NBC is ponying up a record license fee of $894 million for exclusive U.S. rights to the Games.

“NBC sort of limped to its $1 billion because of the slow marketplace,” said Jason Kanefsky, a media buyer with the MPG division of Havas. “But a lot of late money did flow in, including election money” from the Barack Obama and John McCain presidential campaigns.

Bill Cella, a veteran media buyer who runs his own company, said the Olympics “transcend a down marketplace and any controversial issues having to do with the host country.” The prospect of violent protests in Beijing hasn’t appeared to dampen the enthusiasm of advertisers eager to reach a wide mass audience, particularly since there’s not much else to buy in network TV: NBC’s competitors appear to be holding off from scheduling big-deal programming that could be squashed by the Olympics.

“The Games are a juggernaut,” Cella added. “They appeal to all demographics, to all economic sectors.”

Advertisers bought time across a number of platforms, led by NBC and six cable nets it owns: USA, MSNBC, CNBC, Oxygen, Telemundo and Universal HD. In addition, NBCOlympics.com has scheduled about 2,200 hours of live streaming-video coverage.

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