The Olympics

NBC Makes Up for Rio Ratings

Media Buyers Say They Are Satisfied With How Network Handled Shortfall

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Hoda Kotb, Matt Lauer and Al Roker appear on NBC's 'Today.'
Hoda Kotb, Matt Lauer and Al Roker appear on NBC's 'Today.' Credit: Joe Scarnici/NBC
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Having missed its ratings guarantees in Rio, NBC in the coming weeks may be on the hook for some holdover Olympics make-goods, but for the most part media buyers say they are satisfied with how the network has handled its Summer Games shortfall.

According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, NBC through the first 13 days of its Olympics coverage has averaged 28.1 million viewers and a 16.0 household rating, two full ratings points shy of the 18.0 it had guaranteed advertisers in the run-up to Rio. (The "total audience delivery" data includes NBC's primetime broadcasts, coverage on six cable networks and digital streaming.) That marks a decline of 13% compared with the analogous period during the 2012 Summer Olympics and a 12% drop from London's 18.1 household rating.

Since the games began on Aug. 5, NBC has hit its guarantees on just three nights, which coincided with big wins in the pool by Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky and the U.S. women's gymnastics team's gold medal performance. By comparison, the Peacock Network exceeded its London ratings targets 14 nights out of 17.

If the lower-than-expected turnout for the games was a disappointment—NBC execs had anticipated that Rio would put up even bigger ratings than London, which stands as the most-watched Summer Olympics held outside the U.S.—buyers said the network was quick to serve up ADUs (audience deficiency units) in order to make its advertisers whole. "They did everything within their power to make advertisers happy," said one TV buyer. "They took care of those under-deliveries … and clients will remember that when it comes time to talk Korea and Tokyo."

For those advertisers who can't be made whole within the games themselves, NBC likely will offer units in "Sunday Night Football" or its five-game "Thursday Night Football" package. "SNF" last season averaged 22.5 million viewers and a 13.0 household rating.

While NBC hopes to turn a bigger profit in Rio than the $125 million surplus it generated in London, paid ads weren't the only game in town. Through Friday afternoon, its Olympics coverage had featured no fewer than 3,473 in-house promos, of which 412, or 12%, aired in primetime. Promos for shows on the broadcast flagship aired 1,695 times, per iSpot.tv estimates, accounting for 10% of the Olympics' overall spot load.

Among the NBC programs that were given the most time in the Rio spotlight were "Sunday Night Football," which was featured in 302 spots; the upcoming sci-fi drama "Timeless" (282); the Nascar Sprint Cup Series (163); "The Voice" (99); and the sophomore ensemble comedy "Superstore" (91).

On the paid ad front, Geico was the most visible Olympics advertiser, plunking down $36.2 million for 613 units, which generated some 377.1 million impressions. The only brands approaching that frequency were Budweiser, which through Friday afternoon had aired 423 spots, and Pizza Hut (407).

In terms of overall national TV spending, the top 10 Olympics advertisers were Geico, Chevrolet, BMW, Samsung Mobile, Visa, Ford, Citi, Exxon Mobil, Toyota and Honda. All told, the aforementioned brands pumped $273.1 million into NBC's coffers during the first 13-and-a-half days of coverage.

Automotive is the dominant category, as manufacturers through Friday afternoon spent $171.7 million on Olympics inventory. Insurance was No. 2 ($80.1 million) and movies took the bronze with $70.9 million in spending.