Olympics TV Rights Costs Run Risk for NBCUniversal

With the summer Olympics kicking off next month, Comcast is ramping up promotional activity around everything from coverage on the various NBCUniversal properties to the unique experience cable customers will get via its X1 set-top boxes.

U.S. TV rights have become more expensive with each successive Summer Olympics. NBCU paid $1.226 billion for rights to the Rio Games, slightly more than the $1.18 billion it paid for rights to London four years ago, and well above the $900 million it paid for Beijing. That creates pressure for NBCU to deliver more revenue in order to see stable or, ideally, increasing profits from its investment.


Just as cities often lose money when hosting the Olympics, NBCU has a checkered past in terms of profits from broadcasting them. The company lost money on the 2006, 2008, and 2010 Games; however, it profited from the last two Olympics (though likely minimally for the Sochi Games).

Every edition of the Games comes with risks and uncertainties, from the participation and performance of certain high-profile athletes to the presence or absence of compelling narratives that emerge throughout the event. But this year’s Olympics are particularly fraught, given doubts about the readiness of infrastructure, polluted waterways, the Zika virus, and economic instability.

Should these or other issues derail events or prevent athletes from participating, viewership and ad revenue will face serious damage. Given the massive investment Comcast has made not only in rights but in production, promotion, and the X1 platform, any underperformance will hit hard. Margins have been pretty slim in the past, so it wouldn’t take much of a revenue drop to put the whole effort into the red.


On the other hand, NBCU’s Rio effort has potential for upside. The cost of rights didn’t rise nearly as much from London to Rio as it did from Beijing to London, so even modest revenue growth should drive margins. The benefits of the Rio time zone (just one hour ahead U.S. Eastern Time) should help to avoid the pitfalls of delayed broadcasts and put more big events live in primetime, driving viewership. And NBCU and Buzzfeed’s content deal with Snapchat is another possible source of ad revenue beyond traditional broadcast and cable.

Overall, NBCU’s big investment in the Olympics continues to be fraught with risk, this year perhaps more than ever before. On the other hand, if the Games go well, this could be the first time in recent memory that NBCU makes a sizable profit on the event.

More TV

  • Shefali Shah in Delhi Crime

    'Delhi Crime’ Wins big at Asian Academy Creative Awards

    Richie Mehta’s harrowing Netflix series “Delhi Crime” was the big winner at the 2nd annual Asian Academy Creative Awards in Singapore on Friday. Representing the show, lead actress Shefali Shah was rushed off her feet as she repeatedly had to return to the stage. “Delhi Crime” earned her best actress in a leading role, best [...]


    ‘Karnawal,’ ‘Restless,’ ‘Summer White,’ ‘Firsts’ Win Big at Ventana Sur

    BUENOS AIRES  — With Ventana Sur now firing on multiple cylinders, featuring pix-in post or project competitions for not only art films but also genre pics and animation – two sectors embraced by young creators in Latin America – “Karnawal,” “Restless,” “Summer White” and  “Firsts” proved big winners among Ventana Sur’s arthouse and animation competitions, [...]

  • Robert Walker Jr.

    'Star Trek' Actor Robert Walker Jr. Dies at 79

    Robert Walker Jr., son of actors Robert Walker and Jennifer Jones, died Thursday, his family confirmed to the official website for the television show “Star Trek.” He was 79. Walker Jr. is best remembered for playing the titular Charlie Evans in the “Star Trek” episode “Charlie X” from the show’s first season in 1966. His [...]

  • Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, right,

    TV Ratings: Why Is the NBA Shooting Air Balls?

    The NBA’s TV ratings so far this season have been far from all-star level. Viewership across ESPN, TNT and NBA TV is down 15% year-to-year overall, according to Nielsen figures. TNT’s coverage is averaging 1.3 million viewers through 14 telecasts, down 21% versus last year’s comparable coverage, while on ESPN the picture isn’t much prettier. The [...]

  • Claire Danes, Homeland

    TV News Roundup: Showtime Releases 'Homeland' Final Season Trailer

    In today’s TV news roundup, Showtime drops the trailer for the final season of “Homeland,” and National Geographic reveals the first look at Cynthia Erivo as Aretha Franklin in “Genius: Aretha.” FIRST LOOKS Showtime released the trailer for the final season of “Homeland,“ premiering Feb. 9. The eighth and final season, starring Claire Danes and [...]

  • 700700 + Ted Turner Dedication. December

    Ted Turner Tributes Established With WarnerMedia Gift to University of Georgia

    WarnerMedia has established a scholarship, internship program and exhibition hall at the University of Georgia to be named after maverick media mogul Ted Turner. The company has gifted $550,000 to the university to create the Ted Turner Scholarship Fund, for students attending the school’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, which is also the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content