NBC Wants to Marry Super Bowl Commercials to Winter Olympics

A 30-second ad in the Super Bowl is typically the priciest piece of commercial inventory available on TV. Now NBC is hoping to convince Madison Avenue to dig a little deeper into its pockets.

With the network’s broadcast of Super Bowl LII approximately ten months away, NBC has already set to work to fill the game’s ad roster. To soothe advertisers nervous about the cost of coming up with a Super Bowl commercial, executives are suggesting NBC will work with them to make the glitzy ads work in both the February 4 broadcast of the Super Bowl as well as the parent company’s telecast of the Winter Olympics, which is slated to follow just four days later. A single media company has not shown both events since CBS was able to do so in 1992.

“You can create a spot that runs in the Super Bowl and you can amortize your costs of creating it by running it in the Olympics,” suggested Dan Lovinger, executive vice president, ad sales, of NBC Sports Group, in an interview. NBC says it will work with advertisers so they can make tweaks to a Super Bowl commercial that would render the ad more relevant to audiences during an Olympic advertising dash. “The one-two punch of the Super Bowl followed by the Olympics makes it all worthwhile,” said Lovinger, articulating the network’s sales pitch to potential sponsors.

NBC is using its once-in-a-blue-moon pairing of sports broadcasts to try to stem a growing problem in the world of TV advertising. Super Bowl commercials, those outsize extravaganzas that are supposed to be the industry’s best and most memorable pitches each year, have become harder – and a lot costlier – to pull off correctly.

Thanks to the rise of social media, most Super Bowl campaigns start weeks ahead of the game itself, with advertisers making so-called “teaser” clips available on YouTube and elsewhere. That dynamic means Super Bowl ad campaigns need to be calibrated and thought out months in advance. There are the astronomical costs associated with production:  special effects, rights to popular song and celebrity endorsements. And then there’s digital strategy and lining up retail support.

“It’s not about going in and buying a 30-second spot,” said one media-buying executive familiar with current negotiations. “If you come in last minute now, you don’t have the time to activate what a Super Bowl ad should be.”

Filling the Super Bowl with advertisers has become a more arduous task in recent years. “This was not the easiest exercise I’ve been through,” said Seth Winter, Lovinger’s predecessor, with just days to go before NBC’s 2015 broadcast of Super Bowl XLIX. NBC sold out ad time for the game, but at a slower pace than Fox had for its broadcast of the pigskin classic in the previous year. Neither CBS or Fox announced a sell-out for their broadcasts of Super Bowl 50 in 2016, or Super Bowl LI earlier this year.

Fox sought more than $5 million for a 30-second commercial in this year’s broadcast of Super Bowl LI. “We will be seeking the maximum value that the Super Bowl deserves,” said Lovinger, who declined to name the price NBC might be seeking for commercials in the game. “Ultimately, the marketplace transacts. I can’t tell you what that number is.”  NBCU is  seeking additional commitments to its live stream of the Super Bowl, said Lovinger.

Olympics ads are typically sold in packages, and advertisers who are sponsors of the International Olympic Committee or U.S. Olympic Committee usually get first dibs. At a certain level of spending, those advertisers can be the exclusive advertiser in a particular category.

The buyer suggested NBCU might be testing the Super Bowl-Olympics offer because the media company recognizes it will generate a lot of ratings in a quick amount of time – and might be challenged to sell all that viewership. “It’s going to generate a huge audience, and the issue will be is there enough demand to come in and eat all that up?” the buyer asked. “It’s not the best time of year, because there’s a little bit of a lull post-holidays.”

Citing research, NBCU is trying to make a compelling case for spending ad money. Lovinger said studies found that co-viewing is 16% higher during big TV events, “so you have the opportunity to attract a broad family environment.” Ad recall is 29% better during big events and commercials that run during such programming generate 18% more likeability. “Big events actually work harder for an advertiser,” he said.

NBCU is also telling potential sponsors they will miss out if they don’t participate. “It will be the single biggest night in TV followed by the single biggest event,” said Lovinger. “That’s pretty rare.”

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