The Olympics

NBC Tried to Change Olympics Running Order in Bid for Bigger Ratings

Viewers Might Watch Longer If U.S. at Back of Pack of Opening Ceremony Parade

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NBC, which paid about $1.2 billion to broadcast the Olympics, is so keen to maximize the audience for Rio 2016's opening ceremony that it lobbied unsuccessfully to change the spectacle's official running order, Brazilian organizers said.

In the traditional Parade of Nations, teams enter the arena in alphabetical order. A spokesman for Rio 2016 said organizers had considered a request to change the language of the ceremony from Portuguese to English, which would have put the United States's 555 athletes near the back, giving American audiences a reason to watch the full broadcast. As it is, the team will enter somewhere in the middle, because in Portuguese, the delegation is known as "Estados Unidos."

Communications director Mario Andrada told the Americans yesterday that International Olympic Committee rules require that the official language of the opening ceremony has to be that of the host country. An NBC spokesman denied that the group lobbied to change the language. He didn't comment on whether NBC wanted to change the running order.

"We have regular discussions with our partners at the IOC about everything involved in presenting the best possible Olympics coverage to our audience across the United States," an NBC spokesman said in an email. The network is the biggest global broadcaster for the Games.

The opening ceremony is the only part of the Olympics that won't air live in the U.S. The four-hour spectacular will start at 8 p.m. Eastern time, an hour after the show starts at Rio's Maracana stadium.

"We want to start when people are at home to watch," NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel said in an interview Monday. "It is a show, not an actual event."

Mr. Zenkel predicted the ceremony would be one of the highest-rated nights of the Games. It helps that Brasilia time is just an hour ahead of the U.S.'s East Coast. During the London 2012 Games, NBC received criticism for delaying its broadcast of the main events, giving rise to the #NBCFAIL campaign on social media.

Still, London 2012 was the most-watched event in U.S. TV history, according to the network. On Comcast's earnings call Wednesday, NBCU Chief Executive Officer Steve Burke said that NBC made $120 million in profit from the 2012 Games. "We are going to make a lot more than that" in Rio, he said.

The network had sold more than $1 billion worth of Olympics advertising inventory by mid-March.

"It is four years later, and so fortunately there always is a little bit of growth in ad rates," Mr. Zenkel said, adding that the network has more platforms, content and coverage than ever. "It's the Olympics. Gathering a massive audience for a short period of time in front of the entire American nation is a fairly unique proposition."

NBC did succeed in moving swimming, one of the most popular events with U.S. viewers, to later start times, including some races that begin after midnight. "It's win-win," Mr. Andrada said. "We both want the highest viewership possible."

-- Bloomberg News

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