The All-Over Olympics

NBC Hopes to Make Games n Sydney First on Cable, Network TV, Internet

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For most people, the upcoming event in Sydney will be called the XXVII Olympiad. The team at NBC uses a different phrase: the complete Olympics.

The Peacock Network, which paid $3.5 billion for the U.S. broadcast rights to the Olympics through the 2008 Summer Games, hopes to set ratings records by making Sydney the first Summer Games to be broadcast on basic cable as well as network TV, and the first in which the Internet is a real player.

It will be convergence tested with a sports stadium as a backdrop. For advertisers, the 18 days and 437.5 hours of programming time could provide a peek at whether cross-promotion across multiple platforms actually works.

DRIVING VIEWERS TO TV

For NBC, it's all about driving viewers to the TV set each night, where the mother lode of ad revenues will be generated, beginning Sept. 15.

"The Olympics have always been a place where the family comes together," says Gary Zenkel, senior VP of NBC Olympics. "In these days of self-interest, the Olympics have traditionally been able to bring everyone together in front of the television. Nothing will replace the moving image and the storytelling we can do."

The schedule will include 162.5 hours of traditional prime-time coverage on NBC of mass-appeal sports such as gymnastics, track and field and swimming; 174 hours of original programming during the day on MSNBC and in the evening on CNBC for fans of other sports; and 101 hours of repeat coverage on MSNBC overnight.

PLACE FOR LIVE RESULTS

For Olympics fanatics, NBC formed a venture with San Francisco-based Quokka Sports to deliver live results as they occur and produce original content on nbcolympics.com. For the Sydney Games, a staff of 50 is scrambling to compile biographies on 1,300 athletes and create mini-Web sites for all sports, including signing up athletes to participate in online forums. The Web site, which went live last August, features an online Olympics store that carries such merchandise as clothing and souvenir pins.

NBC is selling network and cable spots as a package, but for the first time, advertisers say they are seeing some flexibility in the buys; in other words, companies have a better chance to target their message to the right audience.

Eastman Kodak Co., for instance, is getting a say in where its spots will be placed rather than just plugging them into an available slot. That means viewers will see more Kodak commercials in women's gymnastics than in boxing.

"NBC has come to terms with understanding that not all programming they provide is the most entertaining for our audience," says Manny Rivera, Kodak's director of corporate partnerships. "We don't skew 100% male all the time. NBC's learning how to market a particular company's product."

Nevertheless, Kodak so far has passed on extending its Olympics campaign to nbcolympics.com. The Internet is not broadcast TV, Mr. Rivera says.

NBC says it's only looking for 10 to 14 Web site sponsors, whose ad messages will be wrapped into content rather than trumpeted in banner ads; the network concedes it's meeting some resistance.

"There's much greater deliberation going into [the Web buy] because it's a new product," Mr. Zenkel says. "We're basing our predictions on history, but history doesn't really resemble what we're doing."

NBC is predicting 8 million new visitors to the Web site during the games. The cost for Web sponsorship alone: slightly more than $1 million, or less than 5% of the average cost of a network/cable sponsorship. Quokka will retain 51% of Internet ad revenues.

"We've had a few that said, `I want nothing to do with the Internet.' They're tapped out," says Tom Worcester, VP-sponsorship and advertising for NBC-Quokka Ventures.

THREE-PRONGED APPROACH

Visa International, Anheuser-Busch Cos. and IBM Corp. have signed up for the three-pronged approach.

"Mass communication and television has to be just that," says Marilyn Mersereau, VP-brand advertising at IBM. "But on the Internet, you can be so targeted to a highly technological audience. It's a natural medium for us, and we get it."

"If you go to the Olympics to buy some spots, you're going to have a weak promotion," says John Lazarus, senior VP-director of national broadcast operations for TN Media, New York.

"If you offer a whole program, you're going to build something for your client. It's an expensive proposition, but it's the best way of reaching people. I think NBC is onto a nice way of selling this because I think a lot of advertisers are looking for reach [and] synergy."

No matter what the format, advertising on the Olympics carries some risk.

None of the coverage will be live because of the 15-hour time difference between Sydney and the Eastern U.S. That means a fan who checks the Web site in the morning will already know the scores and will have to wait until that evening to see an event that was held much earlier.

RESULTS ELSEWHERE

The results will be available elsewhere, too.

"We can't afford to worry about that," Mr. Zenkel says. "Our objective is to capture that Web audience that is simply going to go to the Internet for that information."

Also, because NBC only has U.S. broadcast rights, it can't stream audio and video footage because of the Internet's global reach. Last month, the International Olympic Committee said it would only consider streaming if the transmissions were restricted to areas where there were exclusive broadcast rights.

This isn't NBC's first attempt to push the Olympics past prime time.

The network offered pay-per-view access to all sports at the 1992 Barcelona Games, but the Olympic Triplecast, as it was called, was a money-losing debacle.

Four years later, in Atlanta, NBC took heat for not providing enough coverage of some popular events, such as the gold-medal-winning U.S. women's soccer and softball games. This year, NBC promises more than 30 gold-medal events will be carried on the cable channels, including every women's soccer game on MSNBC.

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