Olympics spots now $600,000: Ratings bonanza lures movie studios

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Movie studios are taking advantage of unexpectedly strong ratings for the Olympic Games to promote their fall releases.

Studios-whose flexible budgets give them an advantage-are eyeing time initially set aside for make-goods by NBC, whose ratings overshot its guarantees. According to one executive familiar with negotiations, NBC had set aside between 8% and 10% of its inventory for make-goods-much larger than previous estimates of 5%.

"You are going to see more movie companies coming in, anyone with last-minute budgets. The numbers are huge, everyone's happy with the numbers," one TV executive said.

NBC is selling its additional time for around $600,000 per 30 seconds, according to buyers. The value of that extra airtime could be between $80 million and $100 million dollars, though NBC is said to be using some of the new inventory to "upgrade" its most prized customers to better time periods and additional spots.

`last-minute avails'

"This is unique for the studios ... there are last-minute avails. It can help you boost a movie. Usually you have to be very reactive," said Geoff Robison, senior VP-national TV at Palisades Media Group, Los Angeles, which represents Miramax and Lions Gate Films.

Lions Gate is rolling out "Open Water" around the country and will buy time to promote the movie this week, depending on how the Olympics performed over the weekend, said Mr. Robison. Time Warner's New Line Cinema is also said to have bought some of the additional time. The studio, which did not return calls, is set to release "Cellular" on Sept. 10.

Before the games opened NBC said the broadcasts were sold out and would bring in around $1 billion in revenue.

NBC executives' initial hopes for the Olympics had been modest, given terrorism fears and the prospect of poor attendance. While the opening ceremony and first day drew disappointing numbers, ratings have exceeded expectations. As of Aug. 20, NBC was averaging a 16.2 rating, up 10% on the 2000 Sydney Games.

Network executives confirmed that buyers were given ratings guarantees around 14.5. But they cautioned that the second week of events, which include track and field, are generally less highly rated. Coverage on Aug. 19 was watched by 71 million total viewers and earned a 19.3 rating/32 share up 30% on the same period at the 2000 games.

`overdelivery'

Stacey Lynn Koerner, exec VP-director global research at Initiative Media, part of Interpublic Group of Cos., said, "The Olympics are doing extremely well. It is all they could have hoped for, given all the concerns about the venue and whether they'd be ready."

Karen Jones, VP advertising and brand management at parcel delivery service DHL-a new Olympic sponsor that replaced UPS-said the company was very happy with its buy. "We are on the side of overdelivery. We've got a week left to go and we are hoping America will continue to bring home the gold."

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