NBC SAYS 90% OF OLYMPIC ADS NEARLY SOLD

One Buyer Disputes Network Claims

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- General Electric's NBC said it has sold nearly 90% of its advertising time for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics despite the weak ad economy.

Network spokesman Kevin Sullivan said the newtork is "right on the doorstep of 90%."

Last week NBC told advertisers that it had sold 87% of its goal of $790 million, but Sony Pictures and Korean automaker Hyundai Corp. have signed on to boost the figure, an industry executive said. The executive said the $790 million target is too high and an estimated $700 million is a more accurate figure.

Figure disputed
A media buyer who has purchased time, however, disputed the 90% figure, estimating sales remain sluggish, in the 60% to 70% range. The figure is a matter of some importance because most of the blue-chip advertisers have signed on and filling the remainder of the ad time could prove difficult if the network is forced to rely on lower-tier advertisers.

NBC, however, may be able to ink deals with more movie companies than just Sony since many release dates of films were pushed back in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy. The network may also be able to increase its commitment from sponsor Universal Pictures.

NBC in recent weeks has signed deals with Nike, Audi, Kay Jewelers, EDS and Polo.com (of which the network is a part owner). Separately, NBC has two pharmaceutical advertisers, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, according to executives familiar with the matter. Despite the consumer fears and financial troubles within the airline industry, Delta Air Lines will maintain its advertising with NBC, an executive familiar with the matter said. A Delta representative could not be reached for comment late today.

Wave of patriotism
NBC said it took in $900 million last year for the Sydney Summer Olympics, which had disappointing ratings, leading the network to provide make-goods. Salt Lake could prove different since events such as figure skating will be shown live in prime time. NBC is telling advertisers that the wave of patriotism sweeping the country in the wake of Sept. 11 could boost interest.

NBC last week also assured advertisers what Salt Lake officials have maintained: that the Games will go on. The network has increased the security budget from $200 million to $240 million, according to the industry executive.

Mr. Sullivan said network executives were pleased with their sales success with the looming recession and war: "Even before the recent surge of patriotism against the most difficult marketplace in anybody's memory, the Olympics are nearly 90% sold out, which is a strong indicator of how strong the Olympics are as a property."

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