The site has already surpassed traffic figures for Web coverage of the previous Winter Games with 11 days to go, because in the four years since Salt Lake City the level of broadband penetration has reached more than 60% of U.S. households. The Web site has served up 67,000 hours of video; viewers can download a selection of snow-covered highlights once they’ve aired or watch certain competitions in their entirety. (So, if like the Watercooler staff, you fell asleep waiting for U.S. figure skater Sasha Cohen, last in a field of 29 skaters and well after 11 p.m. in NBC’s coverage, you could have gotten up this morning and watched her first-place skate online. Or if you missed Lindsey Jacobellis’ controversial showboating move in the women’s snowboard cross, you could log on now and see it for yourself.)
The Web site is generating income, said Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics. “This is the first time that we will make a profit on our Internet operation. It looks at this point like we’ll make $5 million to $6 million in pure profit.”
Mr. Ebersol added that the games across all its platforms, including cable outlets, will likely make between $50 million and $75 million in profit. (The network paid in excess of $600 million for the rights to air the Olympics and took in an approximate $900 million in ad revenue.)
NBC’s broadcast TV coverage -- while still wildly popular -- has suffered a bruising from a range of hit shows on other networks. While NBC won Friday, Saturday and Monday nights in the one demo everyone talks about, adults aged 18-to-49, ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” Feb. 17 and “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy” on Feb. 19 took large chunks out of the audience. NBC scored a 6.8 rating Feb. 20 in that advertiser-coveted demo, down 15% from 2002 and 17% from the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
Even Mr. Ebersol agreed that by the end of NBC’s current contract with the International Olympic Committee in 2012 that much more Olympic coverage would be viewed live via Web platforms. “The real issue, though, to this point, the money that pays for the Olympics, for our rights, is still largely money coming from TV advertising. As soon as we see significant money start to come in from fields like the Internet and wireless, we’ll adjust our policies even more.”