The Olympics won't be a giant moneymaker for NBC Universal, but it may prove to be a small-time hitmaker for its broadcast network.
NBC has used the games for the most aggressive promotion of coming programming to date. Rather than simply run the usual "promos" during the Olympics, NBC ran debut episodes of both "Go On" and "Animal Practice," two sitcoms slated to launch in the weeks ahead. Each program ran commercial-free. What's more, the network ran a minutes-long preview of "Revolution," a sci-fi drama from popular producer J.J. Abrams.
The network even got hard-nosed. NBC made the bold -- and, in some cases, audience-displeasing -- maneuver of interrupting the games' closing ceremony with "Animal Practice," a sitcom featuring a funny monkey. "My reaction was, "You're not really doing this, are you?'" said Scott Rosner, who teaches sports business at the Wharton School of Business. "You're not really forsaking 22 minutes of Olympics coverage for "Animal Practice,' are you?"
For NBC, the answer had to be yes. In the midst of a turnaround effort that has already taken several years, the Peacock knew it couldn't squander its Olympics tune-in. About 16.1 million viewers tuned in to "Go On," which features actor Matthew Perry; about 12.8 million watched "Animal Practice." Clearly, fewer will tune in come fall, but why ignore the chance to sell one of TV's biggest crowds on a new entertainment option?
"The Olympics provides a unique opportunity to introduce a broad audience to our fall series and truly jumpstart awareness," said Len Fogge, president-marketing, NBC Entertainment, via email.
The results truly won't be known until the shows launch in a few weeks, but a big-time promotional berth is no guarantee of success. NBC used the Super Bowl to goose interest in the second season of "The Voice" -- now a juggernaut challenging "American Idol"—but it also used the Vancouver Olympics telecast to draw viewership to "Parenthood," which is nowhere near a ratings contender.
In 2008, NBC used the Olympics to tout non-starters such as "Crusoe," "Knight Rider," "Kath & Kim" and "My Own Worst Enemy." None of them are on the air today, and "Enemy," a spy drama featuring Christian Slater and product placement from General Motors, lasted just nine weeks.
Some viewers may have been put off by NBC's bottom-line pitch, but Wharton's Mr. Rosner says it's good business sense for reaching the key 18-to-34-year-old male demo. "The only thing they congregate around is live sports," he said. "You've got an opportunity for a breakaway layup and you decide not to go for the shot? ... You have to."