NBC: Olympic advertisers unfazed by protests

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - NBC Universal has sold 75 percent of the commercial inventory for its upcoming Olympics broadcast and has seen no discomfort from advertisers over pro-Tibet protests against China, Chief Executive Jeff Zucker said on Monday.

Members of the French rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) hold banners which show handcuffs in the form of Olympic rings during the Paris leg of the Olympic torch relay April 7, 2008. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

Zucker told Reuters in an interview that Olympic advertising prices have been “incredibly strong” despite political tensions and anti-China protests ahead of the August games in Beijing.

“The fact is the Olympics are a sporting event on the world stage,” he said. “It’s not surprising that some would try to use that stage to further their own causes, and we understand that, but at the end of the day this is about the event and both the advertisers and our viewers understand that.”

Zucker was speaking after a relay of the Olympic torch through Paris was canceled on Monday after thousands of pro-Tibet protesters repeatedly snarled its progress.

NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric and Vivendi, has the exclusive U.S. television broadcast rights for the Olympics. Asked if the tensions have caused any pullback by advertisers, Zucker said, “We’ve seen no evidence of any discomfort with anything regarding the Olympics.”

He also said NBC has received “very positive feedback” from advertisers on its 2008/09 prime television schedule, which was unveiled last week. While it was too early to predict pricing for commercial time, he said he was “optimistic” heading into the upfront period, when the majority of prime-time ads are negotiated.

“The best barometer of upfront pricing historically is second-quarter scatter pricing,” Zucker said, referring to the spot market where near-term advertising is sold to marketers. “That has been incredibly strong, so we’re optimistic,” he added in an interview ahead of a presentation to an advertising industry conference in Washington D.C., sponsored by the IAA.

NBC revealed its upcoming programming lineup earlier this month, six weeks ahead of other major TV networks, saying it wanted to give advertisers time to plan long-term campaigns.

The network has been under pressure to boost viewership after it has been lagging behind News Corp’s Fox, Walt Disney Co’s ABC and CBS Corp’s CBS.

NBC is also thought to be interested in bidding for the Weather Channel, whose time-sensitive broadcasts and programming about environment issues have attracted audiences and advertisers and would fit well with NBC’s cable news channels like CNBC and MSNBC.

Zucker declined to comment on whether NBC had placed a bid, but said: “The Weather Channel is a very good opportunity and certainly something we would take a look at. News and information is a hallmark of NBC Universal.”