The Olympics

Thanks, Zika: NBC Hits Record $1.2 Billion in Ad Sales for Olympics

Issues Plaguing Rio Generate Heightened Awareness Among Viewers, Advertisers

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NBC Olympics: Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony Promo
NBC Olympics: Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony Promo Credit: NBC Olympics
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NBC hit a new record for Olympic advertising – securing $1.2 billion in national ad sales for the upcoming games in Rio.

"We surpassed what we thought was an unattainable threshold," said Seth Winter, exec VP-advertising sales, NBC Sports Group.

This puts NBC about 20% ahead of ad sales for its 2012 London games.

Mr. Winter said the news coverage around issues that have been plaguing Rio heading into the summer games have served to drive awareness, and in turn, demand for commercial time.

The Rio Olympic games have been clouded by reports of a Zika outbreak, safety concerns, economic turmoil and infrastructure failures.

"It sounds a little bit distorted or perverse, whatever the appropriate word is, but it just raises awareness that there are Olympic Games going on in South America. And I think you'd have to be hibernating under a rock not to understand that," Mr. Winters said.

"There's also some mystique with what is actually going on down here," he added. Surely, people want to see if Rio will be able to pull off the games without incident.

Mr. Winter, who is currently in Rio, said "a lot that has been reported we don't really see right now."

Viewers can expect to see some political advertising during the games, but Mr. Winter stopped short of providing specifics on what candidates have purchased commercial time.

Automotive, insurance, quick-service restaurants, beverages, teleco, packaged goods and retail continue to be among the most represented categories. Pharmaceuticals is also a surprisingly strong category this year, Mr. Winter said.

Official U.S. Olympic Committee sponsors include Nike, McDonald's, Procter & Gamble, Allstate, Visa and Anheuser-Busch.

While the Peacock Network is essentially sold out of premium inventory, it is still booking business and Mr. Winter said it can find solutions for marketers who still want to be part of the game.

Digital sales are up about 33% over London. Back in January, Mr. Winter predicted that NBC's digital sales in and around the Rio Games would surpass London's by as much as 50%.

"For the first time ever we got to our budgeted number weeks in advance," Mr. Winter said. Typically, this is not achieved until a few days, or even during the Olympic games.

In March, NBCU said it passed the $1 billion mark in national ad sales. Back in 2012, the company reached that milestone just two days before the kickoff to the London Games.

In all, the London Olympics garnered $1.3 billion in ad sales, when accounting for local revenue from affiliates and NBC-owned-and-operated stations. Rio's $1.2 billion figure does not include local revenue or revenue from partnerships with platforms like Snapchat and BuzzFeed.

With Rio just one hour ahead of the East Coast, a large part of NBC's prime-time coverage will air live, which should help boost ratings. London is five hours ahead of New York.

NBC averaged about 31 million viewers in prime time over its 17 nights of coverage during the 2012 London games. The Opening Ceremony drew 40.7 million viewers and a 12.2 rating.