NBC will offer advertisers a variety of elements that could make the Atlanta Games one of the first mass-audience interactive TV advertising events.
"Everybody is talking about spending billions of dollars to build a superhighway so that they can interact with viewers. But we can already do that," said Pier Mapes, president of the NBC Television Network.
Mr. Mapes said NBC plans to offer its Olympics sponsors an array of interactive capabilities, including NBC Viewer Service and possibly NBC Online and Interactive Network, as part of an incentive package.
NBC Viewer Service lets viewers request more information about a particular advertiser's products or services by calling an 800-number shown on the TV screen along with the NBC Viewer Service logo.
NBC Online will give the network a presence on online services such as CompuServe and Prodigy. NBC plans to sponsor interactive programming such as full-motion video promotions or program listings, and will offer advertisers the service as part of an integrated marketing package.
NBC also has a stake in Interactive Network, a service that lets subscribers play along with sports and other TV programming. Interactive Network has a deal with Chrysler Corp. to test ad recall and response rates among IN subscribers.
To date, NBC has aired the Viewer Service spots only twice, in relatively low-rated, but highly targeted programs.
The first Viewer Service spots kicked off Oct. 23 during NBC's college football coverage for advertisers including General Motors Corp., Anheuser-Busch and Gillette Co.'s Braun unit. Chrysler used the Viewer Service on Jan. 22 during the National Hockey League All-Star Game.
NBC is targeting the service to advertisers of big-ticket items, such as cars, electronic equipment and business services. Such advertisers, NBC says, would benefit from being able to provide more information to viewers.
The network has been concerned that running the spots in high-rated events, or even in regular prime-time programming, might generate response rates that would overload the capacity of telephone companies.
Indeed, NBC logged more than 10,000 responses to Chrysler's ad during the NHL game, which got only a 2.5 rating.
But Mr. Mapes said NBC has received assurances from telephone companies that they will be able to handle Olympic-scale responses by 1996.
"We've spoken to the regional Bell operating companies and they said they will be able to handle it," Mr. Mapes said. "We will have to work out some contingencies with advertisers if the technology is not in place by then, but we think we can do it."
NBC hasn't determined an official ratings estimate for the 1996 Games, but Exec VP-Network Sales Larry Hoffner said it should be "marginally higher" than the 17.5 prime-time and 11.4 average daily rating NBC delivered during the 1992 Barcelona Games.
NBC is now studying how interactive its Viewer Service project is. Chrysler will track how many of the respondents actually take test drives and ultimately purchase Chrysler vehicles.
NBC probably won't charge a premium for the interactive Olympic elements, but it's possible advertisers would pay part of the Viewer Service's 800-number costs.
Mr. Mapes said NBC is committed to developing other forms of interactive marketing, including further exploration of home shopping programming.
About a year ago, NBC created NBC Direct to develop various forms of electronic retailing. The contract of NBC Direct President Michael Rollens has since expired, but he remains a consultant to John Agoglia, president of NBC Productions and NBC Enterprises.