NBC brings home gold for Games

Net to exceed expected profit, guarantees 18 share

The 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, haven’t even started yet but NBC is already claiming the gold medal for advertising revenues.

“Our target was to pull in about $780 million, but instead we’re going to close out at just over $900 million,” Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports, said Wednesday at an elaborate press briefing at the network’s Rockefeller Plaza headquarters.

This surprisingly robust advertiser demand, he said, guarantees that NBC will come away with a profit from the Olympics, which kicks off Sept. 13 on NBC’s sister net MSNBC and wraps up with closing ceremonies Oct. 1.

Bob Igiel, executive VP and director of U.S. broadcast for Media Edge, said he’s not surprised that the Peacock is racking up such lucrative ad dollars. “The Olympics attract the light television viewer, who tends to have more education and higher income than the average.”

But another top media buyer, who requested anonymity, said the 15-hour time difference between Sydney and New York (which stretches to 18 hours for Los Angeles) could take a bite out of Nielsen ratings; any conscientious cable news viewer or Internet user will be able to find out who the winners are well before the delayed tapes go up on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC.

The effect of these delays will be directly tied to how well the U.S. performs. People will watch, this buyer said, if the U.S. comes out No. 1 in many of the contests. But if the victors keep cropping up from other countries, viewers may tune out.

Background focus

David Neal, head of NBC production for Olympics, disagreed with this analysis, saying, “People will want to see our coverage because we’re planning to go heavy on the storytelling. We’ll try to make emotional connections between the athletes and the audience: Viewers will end up caring about an athlete who competes in a sport they may not even be familiar with.”

In addition, advertisers clearly are betting that the negative publicity associated with the Olympic-bidding bribery scandal won’t cool American auds to the Games.

NBC plans to lay out a record $100 million in production costs to cover the Olympics, mobilizing 150 cameras and a staff of 1,812 people (counting both full and part time). NBC will pay the Intl. Olympic Committee $705 million in license fees for exclusive rights to the Sydney Games.

Ebersol said NBC is guaranteeing an 18 rating in primetime, an ambitious projection considering the 15-hour time difference. NBC also figures to be going up against tougher primetime competition because the 2000 Olympics are taking place not in the dog days of July and August but late in the summer, when National Football League games will be under way and the Major League Baseball pennant races are heating up. The Games will also have to contend with original episodes of ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” as well as the final segs of CBS’ “Big Brother.”

But other firstrun series episodes may be at a premium because the broadcast networks have enlisted Nielsen Media Research to start the 2000-01 primetime season Oct. 2, two weeks later than usual, precisely because the Summer Olympic Games — which take place once every four years — have a track record of demolishing any sitcoms and dramas foolish enough to go up against them.

“NBC is not going to get a free ride, though,” Igiel said.

Triple-team coverage

NBC, MSNBC and CNBC combined will carry a record total of 441.5 hours of coverage from Sydney. NBC will do 162.5 hours over 16 days (84.5 of those in primetime). MSNBC will cover the events for 214 hours over 18 days and CNBC will weigh in with 65 hours.

Bob Costas is the host for primetime and latenight on NBC, and Hannah Storm will do the honors weekday mornings and weekend daytime. Jim Lampley will host MSNBC’s coverage and Pat O’Brien will preside over CNBC’s.

NBC ponied up a combined total of $3.5 billion to get exclusive rights to Sydney and the next four Olympics: the 2002 Games from Salt Lake City; the 2004 from Athens, Greece; the 2006 from Turino, Italy; and the 2008 from a site yet to be determined.

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