×

To Win Olympics, NBCU Must Lure Big Crowds — and Small Streamers

Analysis: NBCUniversal and parent Comcast can’t afford to ignore any screen in their efforts to profit off of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics

Whenever NBCUniversal broadcasts an Olympics, the massive media company is eager to make a big splash. To succeed, however, executives must increasingly sweat the small stuff.

Yes, NBC has lined up Katie Couric to co-anchor the usual colorful primetime broadcast of the Opening Ceremonies from PyeongChang, South Korea, on February 9th. But the company will also stream the inspirational gathering live, so tech-savvy consumers who don’t want to wait until big-viewing TV hours can watch an unfiltered feed of the event earlier in the day. Yes, NBCUniversal’s various outlets will broadcast more than 2,400 hours of skiing, figure skating, snowboarding – and analysis of same. But the company will show the bulk of it – 1,800-plus hours – on NBCOlympics.com and its NBCSports app, compared with 631.5 hours on linear TV networks like NBC, NBCSN, USA and CNBC.

“We expect that this will be the most-consumed Games across all platforms,” said Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports, speaking to reporters Wednesday at a company event held to preview coverage. Even so, he added, NBCU is ready for a repeat of a trend that took place during its 2016 coverage of the Summer Olympics in Rio.

Overall linear-TV viewership was off 18% from its 2012 broadcast of the Summer Games from London. NBCU was able to meet advertiser guarantees by granting sponsors extra commercial time, and came away from Rio with more than $1.2 billion in ad sales – and approximately $250 million in profit.

Even in the era of the DVR, traditional couch potatoes largely continue to watch live sports as they have for decades. But as a generation of new spuds makes its screen habits known, even NFL football and the Olympics aren’t immune from viewers making their way from the living-room TV set to the smartphone or mobile tablet. A regular-season NFL game’s average audience fell 9.7% to 14,9 million viewers this season, according to Nielsen. That compares with an average audience of 16.5 million viewers per regular-season game in 2016. Viewership fell 8% last year.

Consumers still like live sports – and so too does Madison Avenue. Despite viewer erosion, the live games bring TV’s biggest audiences. NBCU will do its part to capture such a crowd by broadcasting the Winter Olympics live across the country for the first time – meaning Los Angeles viewers won’t have to wait to see what New York counterparts are enjoying.

And recent world events have given NBCU hope that a broader audience will tune in. North Korea and South Korea have decided to field a joint Olympic team, a “de-escalation” that “has been most welcome, both by the world and our employees,” said Jim Bell, president of production and programming for NBC Olympics. Bell has had to contend with logistical threats  in the past – hints of terrorism in London in 2012, an outbreak of the Zika virus in Rio in 2016 – but a Winter Games taking place near North Korea had cast a potential shadow over the proceedings.  Seeing athletes like Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White is also no small enticement.

NBCU has already said it expects to generate an ad-revenue increase in the “low double digits” percentage range above the approximately $800 million it secured from its coverage of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. That means the company could be looking at more than $900 million in national ad sales alone.

To fully monetize an Olympics, however, NBCUniversal can’t afford to leave any screen unturned. The company made use of Snapchat when it broadcast from Rio, but it is expanding its efforts for PyeongChang. The quick-share media outlet will feature “Pipe Dreams,” which follows four aspiring Olympic snowboarders, as well as “Chasing Gold,” a series that repurposes many of the Olympic athlete profiles NBC airs during primetime coverage, for the Snap audience.

There’s reason to mine new venues. NBCU found that Snapchat users consumed 230 million minutes of content related to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Nearly 35 million Snapchat users took in Olympics coverage in the U.S., and the majority were under 35 years of age.

With overall TV ratings in flux, NBCUniversal will talk to advertisers in a way that tries to make sense of the new math of accumulating audiences. The company is guaranteeing clients a “total” viewership across broadcast, cable and digital.  Lazarus, the NBCU executive, said the numbers the company releases won’t be able to include so-called “out of home” viewership, which Nielsen can’t provide on a day-after basis, but he expects them to give clients a better picture of who is watching the game, and even how. He declined to talk about specific guarantees to various clients.

Even NBCU’s parent company is getting in on the Games. Comcast and NBCU are in the midst of a $4.4 billion rights deal that lets them cover the Olympics in the U.S. through 2020, and have already agreed to pay $7.75 billion for broadcast rights to the Olympic Games between 2021 and 2032.

During the Wednesday event, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts took to the stage to demonstrate how the company’s cable subscribers could use voice commands to seek out video clips of their favorite athletes or sports as the Olympics plays out. The Olympics, said Roberts, are “our laboratory.” No doubt, Comcast and NBCU hope the larger experiment is successful.

More TV

  • Amazon Prime nabs ‘Russian Affairs’ for

    Amazon Prime Nabs ‘Russian Affairs’ for Germany, France and the Netherlands

    Amazon Prime Video has acquired the first season of series “Russian Affairs” for distribution in Germany, France and the Netherlands, from Russia’s Start Studios. The eight-part drama that follows the lives of Russia’s elite and those who aspire to that position is set in contemporary Moscow. Under the title “Gold Diggers,” the series was broadcast [...]

  • MODEL RELEASED Mother with baby, 1

    Channel 4 Orders ‘Baby Surgeons’ From Wonderhood Studios

    U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 has commissioned Wonderhood Studios for a documentary series with the working title “Baby Surgeons.” The series will explore the journeys parents go through to save their babies during complex pregnancies and will feature cutting-edge baby surgeries, some performed inside the womb. It will also use CGI, MRI and Ultrasound to enhance [...]

  • Bertelsmann CEO Says RTL, ProSiebenSat.1 Should

    Bertelsmann CEO Says RTL, ProSiebenSat.1 Should Be Free to Merge

    The CEO of German media giant Bertelsmann has said its RTL Group TV division should be allowed to merge with German rival ProSiebenSat.1 and called for a loosening of E.U. antitrust regulations in order to better stave off intensifying competition from U.S. streaming giants. In an interview with German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung published on [...]

  • Politicians and Petition Support BBC Following

    Politicians and Petition Support BBC Following Reports of Major Cuts

    A war of words around the future of the BBC continued on Monday amid reports of severe cutbacks to the U.K. public broadcaster. The Sunday Times reported over the weekend that Downing Street, the seat of the U.K. government, was planning to replace the annual BBC license fee with a subscription service; sell most of [...]

  • Stanley Tucci

    Stanley Tucci to Host BBC Radio 4 Series 'The Californian Century'

    Actor and filmmaker Stanley Tucci will front series “The Californian Century,” set to air on BBC Radio 4. Tucci will play a cynical screenwriter who narrates the stories of ten people who helped build California over the last 100 years. They include Francis Boggs, the first person to direct a full movie in California; Hattie [...]

  • Devils

    See Patrick Dempsey in First Trailer for Sky Italia, Lux Vide’s ‘Devils’

    Sky Italia has launched the first trailer for its highly anticipated thriller “Devils,” set to premiere in April on Sky. Produced by Lux Vide and Orange Studio with funding from Sky Studios, the series is distributed internationally by NBCUniversal Global Distribution. The trailer drops hot off the heels of news that Comcast-owned satellite TV operator [...]

  • Sharp Objects

    Entertainment One Commits to Drama: 'Hasbro Bought the Business to Expand It'

    “Sharp Objects” and “Run” producer-distributor Entertainment One is reassuring partners of its commitment to drama following its acquisition by toy giant Hasbro. EOne has always cultivated a strong set of procedurals, such as ABC’s Nathan Fillion-starrer “The Rookie” and Fox’s Stephen Dorff-led “Deputy,” but has also gained traction with cable propositions such as HBO’s “Sharp [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content