NBC foresees potential Olympics shortfall

'12 games might not bring profit, but Peacock likes long-term outlook

One month from the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus said the broadcaster might end up in the red on the event.

However, Lazarus emphasized the long-term value of NBC’s Olympic relationship, which it extended a year ago to include the four Olympics from 2014 through 2020, at a cost of $4.4 billion.

NBC paid $2.2 billion for the combined rights to the 2010 Winter Olympics and this year’s London extravaganza. The Peacock lost approximately $200 million on the ’10 Games, held in Vancouver, and made no promises for this year.

“We don’t know exactly where we’ll end up,” Lazarus said in a conference call. “We’re still writing business. Our ad sales business is very strong. We have contributions from our distribution partners … and our owned-and-operated stations also contribute.”

“The jury’s still out. We’re not predicting that we will necessarily be profitable. But we do know that from the time the Comcast-NBC merger took place, the financial position of these games will be significantly enhanced. … So we feel very good about the stewardship of the economics of this game.”

Presenting the Olympics is a more prodigious effort than ever, as evidenced by the 5,535 hours of scheduled coverage on broadcast, cable and alternate platforms — nearly 2,000 more hours than four years ago from Beijing.

While NBC has long presented marquee events in tape-delay during primetime, the network is increasingly bowing to the reality of a modern-day audience that in large swaths expects to see key moments live, regardless of when they occur or what time zone they’re watching from.

Moreover, NBC Olympics prexy Gary Zenkel said the network has come to believe in recent years that “online streams don’t cannibalize primetime television.” As a result, every 2012 Olympic event will be made available live online.

Lazarus added that he expects NBC will master all the variables to make the Olympics a moneymaker, later if not sooner.

“On a long-term basis,” he said, “we are confident that the deal we made (through) 2020 will be a profitable deal for us — when the final scores come in.”