Olympian falloff

3rd-quarter web revenues take dive from '96

NEW YORK — Third-quarter revenues for the Big Three broadcast networks suffered an Olympic-sized blow from weak comparisons with last year’s sports-fueled quarter.

Combined Big Three revenues fell 18.9%, to nearly $1.8 billion, according to figures released Thursday by the Broadcast Cable Financial Management Assn., a trade group of TV numbers-crunchers. The dropoff was due mostly to a 69% drop in the sports category, which shrank to $257.8 million from $828.5 million last year.

Primetime revenues actually gained 13.5%, to $892.3 million, as did the latenight, ayem and news categories, but “the numbers weren’t nearly strong enough to offset the tremendous impact of the Olympics,” said BCFM prexy Buz Buzogany.

The summer games “had an impact on every category this quarter,” Buzogany said. “In addition to (the Olympics’) domination of sports, it also preempted a lot of evening programming and was the subject of numerous special reports.”

All told, NBC’s 1996 Olympic haul was worth an estimated $680 million to the Peacock web, and political ads kicked in another $2.3 million to the networks for the prior-year period.

Among other dayparts, news sales rose 19%, to $201.5 million; latenight rose 20.2% to $109.7 million, thanks partly to the addition of ABC’s “Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher”; and ayem rose 12.3%, to $82.2 million. The children’s category had a more modest uptick, rising 6% to $16.3 million. Besides sports, the only other category loser was daytime, off 6% to $237.8 million.

For the year to date, Big Three revenues are off 4.8%, to $6.4 billion. Sports is down 33% for the first nine months, kids fare is down 3.7% and daytime is off 2%. The biggest gainers for the nine-month span are morning, up 17% over last year, and latenight, with a 10% gain, while primetime and news sales rose roughly 5% apiece.

Not included

Fox Broadcasting does not report its numbers to BCFM and is thus not included in the aggregate totals, which are compiled by the Ernst & Young accounting firm. But Fox’s gains relative to the Big Three skew the overall numbers, since it’s assumed that the News Corp. web has succeeded in large part at the expense of its more established rivals.

Thus the reported declines, particularly in dayparts like sports and children, mask the overall health of the broadcast network biz, which counts not only Fox but the UPN and WB weblets among total revenues.

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