Feb 6 When Olympic athletes line up to compete
this week in Sochi, NBC executives will be going for the gold in
another sport: turning a profit on the $775 million they paid
for TV rights - a prize that has been stubbornly elusive in
Network executives insist profits are possible this time
after NBCUniversal, a unit of Comcast Corp, broke even
on its telecast of the 2010 Summer Olympics in London. The unit
lost $223 million at the last winter games, in Vancouver,
according to General Electric, which owned NBC at the
"We're comfortable that we will make a reasonable profit
because we made a disciplined bet on the Olympics," Mark
Lazarus, chairman of the NBC Sports Group, said in an interview.
It won't be easy. For U.S. viewers on the East Coast, Sochi
is nine hours ahead, putting many games in the early hours for
NBC's audience. Many viewers will have already gotten news of
the results of some events online, and won't tune in unless its
compelling TV, said Brad Adgate, senior vice president and
research director for media firm Horizon Media.
The Winter Olympics are also typically less popular than the
summer games, when more people watch swimming, gymnastics and
track and field. This year, NBC is heading into Sochi without
the help of one hopeful ratings generator, skiing champion
Lindsey Vonn. The 29-year-old American had to pull out of Sochi
games because of injuries.
"We're disappointed for her," Lazarus told a Jan. 7 news
conference on the same day Vonn announced her decision. "One or
two athletes that are injured shouldn't alter the approach."
An average of 25 million people watched the games during
prime time in 1998 from Nagano, Japan, which is 14 hours ahead
of New York. When the games were held in Salt Lake City four
years later, the audience jumped to nearly 32 million, according
to Nielsen data.
Wringing a profit out of the Olympics this year will be a
bit easier for NBC because it is paying less than $820 million
it had to recoup at the 2010 Vancouver games, said Deana Myers,
a senior analyst with industry research firm SNL Kagan.
NBC also has roughly 28 percent more TV ads to sell by
airing 530 hours of programming, up from 436 in 2010,
advertising research firm Kantar Media calculated. NBCUniversal
is putting games on the NBC broadcast network and four cable
channels, including MSNBC, USA Network and the cable sports
"I don't think they'll make tons of money on this, but it
should be positive," Myers said. "They also have a much better
ad market than they had in 2010."
A month before the games, NBC had already sold more than
$800 million in ads, company executives said, an increase from
the $750 million the network sold for the Vancouver games.
The TV operator is also selling ads for more than 1,000
hours of nearly wall-to-wall coverage it will stream on its
online site NBCOlympics.com, more than double what it offered in
Vancouver. Much of those ads are sold as a package to sponsors
on NBC's TV properties, Lazarus said, but company executives say
they have sold $50 million in ads for its digital properties.
NBCUniversal also believes it can keep the hefty costs of
producing the TV shows down by handling some of the coverage
through its new broadcasting center in Stamford, Connecticut,
The biggest boom for NBC, however, won't likely come from
Sochi. The game's large audience will help promote NBC's prime
time lineup, whose ratings have surged so far this year. And it
should give a boost to Jimmy Fallon, as he takes over the
"Tonight Show" from Jay Leno on Feb. 17.