Olympic ad sales sizzle for NBC cable

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Local cable operators are near sellout levels of their allocated commercial TV time for the Sydney Summer Olympics, to air on MSNBC and CNBC this September, according to NBC Cable Networks executives.

Brian Hunt, director of affiliate advertising sales, and Mark Hotz, VP-consumer and affiliate marketing, led a tour that began in January, giving Olympics presentations in 21 of the largest markets.

SOME SOLD OUT

"Salt Lake City, for instance, closed $500,000 in business" the night the presentation was given, Mr. Hunt said. That market is now sold out, as are about 10 others, including Las Vegas.

Cable operators carrying the Sydney Summer Games in September get 3 minutes of advertising time per hour to sell. This amounts to 1,700 30-second spots over the course of the two-week event.

Though NBC cable executives wouldn't disclose how much ad revenue local cable affiliates could generate from Olympic sales, one media buyer estimates that NBC's goal could be anywhere from $50 million to $80 million.

Local cable advertising sales are booming, but it's a small consideration to cable operators--many of whom had to double their carriage fees for MSNBC and CNBC in order to get the Games. Currently, cable operators pay an average of 15› per subscriber, with MSNBC charging 10›. Adding Olympic coverage for the Sydney Games--as well as future NBC Games--means cable operators will fork over $1.68 per year per subscriber.

Some local cable systems, representing about 20% of NBC's cable universe, haven't yet signed on to carry the Games.

MSNBC will air 170 hours; CNBC, 100 hours; and the NBC network will broadcast 170 hours. The cable networks will get 30 gold medal events to telecast--including the high-profile women's and men's soccer events.

One benefit cable operators hope to derive from the local sales is to add new advertisers to their systems. For instance, AT&T Broadband pulled in the regional Dodge dealer group for Denver--the first time the cable company has done business with the auto retailer.

"It's opened the door to new advertisers," Mr. Hunt said.

Marc Favaro, VP-national advertising media services for AT&T Broadband, noted that sales are doing well in many of AT&T's cable systems.

Local cable advertisers won't be able to call themselves "a proud sponsor of the Olympics"--a valuable marketing moniker for retailers. That is reserved for advertisers who run national commercials on NBC, which will broadcast the Games in the U.S., and for the International Olympic Committee, which sells off major worldwide Olympic sponsorships to a handful of large multinational advertisers.

PROUD LOCAL ADVERTISERS

However, Mr. Hotz notes many local cable advertisers will take advantage of a tag that identifies them as "A proud local advertiser of the Olympics."

For its part, the NBC network has sold at least $700 million in advertising (AA, April 3), according to ad executives. NBC has sold at least 80% of its target, according to NBC executives. But that's lagging behind, given that there's only five months to go before the Games commence, media buyers said.

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