Exclusive: NBC hypes Olympics as hip to youth

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NBC wants to hip-up the Olympics.

In an aggressive bid to lure young viewers to its critical Summer Games broadcast, the network is employing a tactical bag of tricks that includes $40 million in TV time; a text-messaging deal with AT&T Wireless; a beefed up Web presence; and special Olympics-themed programming to run on TV screens in Best Buy, Circuit City and Sears, Roebuck & Co.

NBC also will flex its synergistic muscle by hyping the Games through Universal's theme parks and other divisions, per the newly forged marriage between the NBC and Vivendi Universal (see story, P. 4). The deal will give NBC more outlets than it's had in the past for airing and marketing its Games coverage.

The effort, beginning with on-air promotions this week and rolling out over the summer, was spearheaded by the network's in-house marketing arm, The NBC Agency. It will focus in large part on the 18-to-34 and 12-to-34 demographics with a promotional platform heavy on humor, pop music and irreverence. One, featuring decathlete Tom Pappas, is a "Matrix" riff.

"People 35-plus are kind of a given as an Olympics audience," said John Miller, chief marketing officer at The NBC Agency. "It's the younger audience we need to reach, to excite them to make this appointment viewing."

An effort to reach youth started with the Salt Lake City Games four years ago, with rock-driven, quick-cut, MTV-like spots that resulted in a 27% increase in the younger demographics, according to The NBC Agency.

Executives are trying to replicate that campaign, but with a heavier media presence, for Athens. Aside from the obvious grab for ratings for the Games themselves, the network-which just lost two ratings juggernauts, "Friends" and "Frasier"-plans to begin launching new fall shows immediately after the Games end.

There's a lot at stake. The Olympics now serve as the network's premier sports property after NBC abandoned professional sports. The network gave up the National Football League in 1998, Major League Baseball in 2000 and the National Basketball Association in 2002, citing such numbers as a 38% drop in ratings in the last four years of its basketball contract and losses of almost $300 million.

gold standard

The Olympics remain the gold standard. The 17 days of both the Winter and Summer Games represent two-plus weeks of ratings victories and increased ad revenue-the reason why NBC outbid News Corp.'s Fox and Walt Disney Co.'s ABC last year for the rights to the 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games. NBC paid $2 billion, a 32.6% increase from the $1.5 billion it anted up for the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy and the Summer Games in Beijing.

Even though ad sales have gone well, with about 80%-85% of inventory sold and an eventually tally expected of $1 billion, the upcoming Athens Games are rife with problems. Security and concerns about terrorism abound. Only 15 of the two venues have been fully completed. And the time difference could again play havoc with NBC's ratings. Athens is seven hours ahead of New York, 10 ahead of Los Angeles.

All the more reason to expand the potential audience. The network hopes to do so with a wave of spots launching this week that star swimmers Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin and diver Laura Wilkinson. A spot for the women's gymnastics team uses a popular rock song from alternative band POD, and a parody spot for the swim team introduces "Gary," their lifeguard who's so bored he crochets and gives himself a poolside pedicure.

"We're taking a miniseries approach to these spots," said Vince Manze, co-president of The NBC Agency. "We'll introduce characters and then go into story lines, intrigue, plot development."

Other promotional spots will be run on nbcolympics.com, which will have ties to local TV affiliates and radio, and on-screen in Regal Cinemas.

The deal between the network and AT&T Wireless is still being finalized, but it likely will include Olympics-theme text messaging, streaming video and ring-tone downloads. Tie-ins between the network and official Olympics sponsors-such as McDonald's Corp., Visa International, Choice Hotels and 24 Hour Fitness Worldwide-are in the works.

As part of NBC's ongoing deal with Premiere Retail Network, Olympics-themed spots, promos and Games highlights will air in Best Buy, Circuit City, Sears and other chains. Olympics commentator Jim Lampley hosts segments aimed at boosting awareness of high-definition TV.

contributing: rich thomaselli

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