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NBCU, Buoyed by Live Primetime Shows, Wins More Than $1.2B in Olympics Ads

2016 Rio Olympics
Courtesy of NBCUniversal

Being able to broadcast the Olympics from a continent away, rather than half the world away, is paying off for NBCUniversal.

The Comcast-owned media conglomerate said it has sold in excess of $1.2 billion in national advertising related to its broadcasts from the 2016 Rio Olympics, thanks in large part to a greater amount of live programming that it can show during primetime hours.

“We are exceptionally well sold,” said Seth Winter, executive vice president of advertising sales for NBCU Sports Group, during a conference call Thursday with reporters. “We are pretty much sold out of all of our premium inventory.” NBCU said the amount of advertising sold represents a new record.

For many years, NBCU has had to fill its most expensive hours with broadcasts of Olympic competitions that are tape-delayed, owing to the fact that many Olympics in recent past took place in more remote locales like Sochi, Beijing or London. Having the Games in Rio means being able to show many of them in primetime hours for U.S.  audiences. “I think it’s very, very helpful. We feel more confident in committing to our ratings, and the type of numbers we think it will reach,” said Winter.  As a result, he added, “advertisers feel more comfortable. We are more comfortable.”

Winter said ad sales for Rio were pacing 20% ahead of the company’s efforts behind the 2012 Summer Olympics from London. According to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending, the London Olympics secured around $1.33 billion in all Olympics advertising, including local and digital, while NBCU’s coverage of the Summer Olympics from Beijing in 2008 won around $850 million. Winter said NBCU continued to sell, and was likely to meet with interest from advertisers who had yet to purchase Olympics inventory. The company is also involved with ad deals related to new media venues like Snapchat that it has not counted as part of its total haul, he said.

The economics of the Olympics are well scrutinized at NBCU and its parent company. The Philadelphia cable-and-content giant agreed in 2011 to pay $4.4 billion for U.S. broadcast rights to the Olympics through 2020, and another $7.75 billion for the rights to the Games through 2032. In July, NBCU CEO Steve Burke declared the Rio Olympics would be “the most profitable Olympics in history.”

NBCU will broadcast what it says is an unprecedented 6,755 hours of Olympics programming across its flagship NBC outlet, Spanish-language network Telemundo and cable networks including USA, CNBC, Telemundo, Bravo, Golf Channel, MSNBC, NBCSN and NBCUniverso. The last time the Summer Games were in a U.S. friendly time zone, NBC was the sole network involved, and broadcast 171 hours of coverage for the 1996 Atlanta Games. Rio will have nearly 40 times more programming hours than Atlanta.

NBC itself will show very little not related to the event: Between Friday, August 5 and Sunday, August 21, the broadcast network will show 260.5 hours of Olympics-related programming. On most days, NBC primetime programming will air from 8 p.m. to midnight ET/PT; daytime will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET/PT; and late night will air from 12:35 a.m. to 1:35 a.m. ET/PT. Replays will fill the slots between  1:35 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. ET/PT. Essentially, aside from “Today,” “NBC Nightly News” and some hours from local stations, NBC will feature Olympics events and features nearly around the clock.

The figures help NBCU make good on a sort of promise. The company has said since the summer of 2015 that it expected to sell more than $1 billion in advertising.

A range of different kinds of advertisers have shown interest in the Rio Games, Winter said, including auto manufacturers, retailers, insurance companies, telecommunications providers, quick-service restaurants and beverage marketers.  Viewers will have to keep their eyes out for a different type of pitch: At least one of candidate for U.S. President was expected to run a campaign over the course of the event, said Winter, who declined to offer a name.