The controversy over U.S. figure skating star Tonya Harding makes good headlines, but an exclusive Advertising Age consumer poll found that, drama notwithstanding, it is not likely to significantly boost TV ratings of the Winter Olympics.
CBS earlier dropped two figure skating promotional spots because it felt the highly publicized drama involving Ms. Harding was all it needed to get viewers to tune in to the Games, which opened Feb. 12 in Lillehammer, Norway.
But while interest in the Olympics is high-the survey found 75.4% of consumers are planning to watch-only 10.7% said publicity surrounding the attack on skater Nancy Kerrigan and the subsequent investigation into Ms. Harding's possible involvement have made them more likely to tune in.
That 10.7% figure could translate into millions of additional viewers for CBS. But it's tempered by the finding that nearly 5.8% of respondents said Ms. Harding's woes have made them less likely to watch the Games. More than 82% said the drama will have no effect on their decision to watch the Olympics.
The telephone survey was conducted Feb. 4 to 6 by MarketFacts, an Arlington Heights, Ill., research company, among a random sample of adults ages 18 and over in the continental U.S. The margin of error is 3 percentage points.
It's important to read between the lines, however.
"The planned viewership is very high already," said Tom Mularz, account group manager for MarketFacts' Telenation polling service. "People may not be willing to ascribe it to Harding, but they have been influenced subliminally more so than otherwise to watch the Olympics. It's likely they're just not willing to admit the issue has heightened their awareness."
CBS' pre-Olympic research indicated about 80% of those surveyed planned to watch the Winter Games, up from 75% preceding the 1992 Olympics. And a recent Times-Mirror Press Center poll found 45% of respondents are paying "very close attention" to the Harding fracas.
If Ms. Harding is allowed to skate, she is more likely to be showered with boos than bouquets when she enters the ice rink.
The Ad Age poll found 60.7% of respondents believe Ms. Harding will receive a negative response from the audience attending the Olympic figure skating events. More than half of respondents-52.4%-said she should not be allowed to remain on the team, compared with 30.4% who feel she should (11.6% responded "don't know" and 5.6% wouldn't answer).