"We did hold some time back, and we've released that time for sale," said Seth Winter, senior VP-sales and marketing, NBC Sports & Olympics. "We're going to be over-delivering everybody now." He also said the company was "already actively engaged in discussion" with many advertisers for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the London Olympics in 2012.
The Olympics' performance across NBC Universal and its many properties is being taken as a shot in the arm not only for the company's flagship network, which has suffered in the ratings for the last few years, but also for broadcast TV, which is fighting against technology changes that allow viewers to watch their favorite entertainment on new types of screens, often with fewer ads -- or none at all. NBC Universal said Monday that more than 196 million viewers have watched the Beijing Olympics on its various networks through the first ten days.
NBC said the 10-day average prime-time viewership for the Olympics is 29.8 million, 14% ahead of the Athens Games in 2004, which reached 26.2 million. Beijing's 196 million viewer figure makes these games the fourth-most-watched TV event in U.S. history, NBC said, "only behind the complete totals of the 1996 Atlanta (209 million), 1994 Lillehammer (204 million) and 2004 Athens (203 million) Games."
Skeptics had been unclear about the potential success of the current broadcast. NBC fared poorly when it broadcast the event from Sydney in 2000, which, like broadcasts from Beijing, was subject to time-delayed showings of major events. But the current Olympic Games are taking place at a time when little of importance seems to be on TV during prime time, and have featured a stunning performance by U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps, who has captured eight gold medals by himself or with teammates. NBC, which negotiated with Beijing to arrange key events such as swimming and gymnastics so live contests could be shown in prime time, has also been clever about when and how it broadcasts "must see" events, running them on prime-time broadcast TV before letting them loose in other media venues.
Benefits beyond ratings
NBC is also seizing the moment to tout the longer-lasting benefits of advertising during the Olympics. Citing research from Nielsen IAG, NBC said that ad likability, brand recall and message recall of traditional advertising increased 13%, 14% and 20%, respectively, over typical performance during network prime time when regular ads have been shown during the Olympics. The network also said that ads with Olympic themes have performed better in those categories than ads without them, and that ads running across multiple media platforms during Olympics programming perform better than those that do not.
Citing the IAG data, NBC said that ads from McDonald's that ran between Aug. 14 and Aug. 16, for instance, have achieved brand recall, message recall and likeability of 77%, 82% and 35% above the norm in each category for broadcast and cable advertising.