Winter Olympics viewing has dipped 6% in primetime through the first five days in PyeongChang compared with 2014 in Sochi, but NBC executives say ad guarantees are being met and overall consumption is on a record pace.
Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports, was joined by Joe Brown, NBC Sports Group SVP Research, for a conference call with the press to discuss the performance of the Games so far. While primetime has dropped, Lazarus and Brown painted an upbeat portrait of “Olymp-ism,” to use a unique coinage by Lazarus. “All dayparts are up,” he said, “When you combine all of our dayparts and all of our platforms, total consumption is going to be up overall. …. This will turn out to be the most consumed Winter Games in history.”
Winter and Summer Games combined, he added, have strung together 61 consecutive primetime wins. Even on tape delay, the action from PyeongChang shown on NBC and, for the first time in primetime NBC Sports Network, routinely doubles or triples the audiences of the other three major broadcast networks combined, he added.
Brown cited NBC viewer polls that found that 60% of viewers say they have made time for the Olympics by watching less SVOD content on Netflix, Amazon and other services.
Despite those positives, the media narrative around traditional TV — especially coming off a Super Bowl on NBC that drew the lowest audience for the big game in nine years, complete with an upstaging stunt by Netflix — remains touchy. When the first reporter on the call, David Bauder of the Associated Press, asked for a breakdown of NBC’s total viewership compared with other platforms — an average of 22 million per minute on NBC and another 2 million on cable and streaming — Lazarus took issue.
“Why are you so focused on just the NBC?” Lazarus asked Bauder. “It’s not how we sell it or how it goes to market. I’m just curious.” Bauder replied, “I’m just getting both of them,” and Lazarus countered, “I assume your guys want to sell all your products — digital and papers and things, not just one piece.”
In terms of the overall ad haul, Lazarus said projections from January of about $900 million from the 17 days of the Games are still on track, and that guarantees (which he did not specify) have been met. In 2014, NBCUniversal locked up the U.S. rights to all Olympics through 2032 for $7.7 billion.
Covering these Games has presented an array of challenges for NBCU, both logistical and political given how ultra-sensitive relations are between the U.S. and North Korea. The time difference has meant primetime events are shown on a pronounced tape delay, but in an effort to head off the criticism that hit previous outings, NBCU has committed to airing more than 1,800 hours of coverage online. “The truths we believed in the past are all breaking down here,” Lazarus said. “What we are providing now is a great consumer experience that is responsive to today’s consumer.”
Asked about a couple of on-air gaffes that have marred the early going, especially comments during the opening ceremony by guest analyst and Asia expert Joshua Cooper Ramo, Lazarus had a fairly straightforward response. “We don’t like making mistakes or doing things that are uncomfortable for our hosts here in Korea. We apologized quickly to the organizing committee,” he said. “We believe there was some degree of misinterpretation of what was said. … But we simply apologize and move on.”