NBC says it will lose money on Vancouver Olympics

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. television network NBC said on Sunday it would lose money for the first time on the winter Olympics, which starts in Vancouver in February.

An NBC sign on the General Electric building in New York in this October 5, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Mike Segar

General Electric Co’s NBC, currently languishing in last place among the four major U.S. TV networks, paid a record $2.2 billion in 2003 for the U.S. broadcast rights to the Beijing 2008 summer and Vancouver 2010 winter Olympics.

But NBC Olympics executive producer Dick Ebersol told TV reporters on Sunday that although advertising sales for the network’s three-week coverage of the Vancouver games had picked up, the network would end up in the red, partly due to the higher licensing fees.

“(Ad) sales, which were slow in the spring and early summer due to the economy, have suddenly taken off, and we are well on our way to do the same number we did in Torino (in 2006) and Salt Lake City (in 2002),” Ebersol said.

“Sadly we will for the first time in all our years I’ve been with the Games lose money on the Olympics, but it won’t be because the sales didn’t come around,” he added.

Ebersol did not give details.

NBC has long been the network of choice for broadcasting the Olympics in the United States. The summer and winter games traditionally bring in big audiences and attract lucrative advertising to the network.

Ebersol said NBC would run 835 hours of competition from Vancouver, most of it live on network TV and on its cable outlets including MSNBC and USA. The figure is double the broadcast hours of previous winter Olympics.

Most other U.S. networks have refrained from scheduling big shows during the February 12-28 games and both the Grammy music awards telecast and the Oscars are shifting to before or after the Olympics.

Ratings juggernaut “American Idol” on News Corp’s Fox television network will, however, challenge NBC’s Olympics coverage on four nights in February.

Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Todd Eastham