Buoyed by Summer Olympics ratings that through the first five days are 15 percent higher (17.8/31 rating for Beijing vs. 15.4/27 for Athens) than the 2004 Summer Games, NBC has sold $10 million more advertising inventory since Monday (Aug. 11).
Heading into the Beijing Games, NBC had sold just north of $1 billion on all of its telecast platforms, including NBC, numerous cable networks, and online platforms. But the network clearly kept aside a good chunk of audience-deficiency-unit inventory in case of ratings shortfalls. Network executives are confident they can take that inventory to market, now that the Games are overdelivering on guarantees advertisers were given by NBC.
Adding commercials to the telecasts are not going to create more clutter, according to Steve Sternberg, executive vp of audience analysis for media buying agency Magna.
"Through the first three days of events, roughly 24 percent of the Summer Olympics telecast on NBC in prime time was devoted to commercials, national and local," Sternberg said. "This actually represents less clutter than the typical prime-time entertainment broadcast program which averages about 28-30 percent commercials."
Sternberg said the Summer Olympics have more commercial pods per hour than the typical network drama, but the average pod is significantly shorter, a good thing for advertisers that want audiences to stay with the telecast during the commercials. Sternberg said the average Olympics commercial pod length is about 2 minutes 18 seconds, a full minute shorter than the average prime-time commercial pod.
And in some of the telecasts, NBC Olympics studio host Bob Costas has actually told viewers that upcoming commercial pods would only last 1 minute and 20 seconds. One media agency buyer said this was a good thing for advertisers, believing that most viewers would remain watching their sets for that shorter period of time, rather than leaving the room or switching channels.
NBC's ratings have been a pleasant surprise to both the network and its advertisers. While NBC is televising as many events as it can live, with a half a day time difference between Beijing and the U.S., it was not known how viewers would consume the games on TV, versus getting results ahead of time from news reports. But judging from the ratings, viewers appear to be tuning in to actually watch the events, including swimming and gymnastics in which the U.S. teams have excelled. And those are the primary events that NBC has been showing in prime time.
NBC, through five days, has been averaging 31.3 million viewers, almost 5 million more than it averaged with the 2004 telecasts from Athens.
In addition to its TV audiences, viewers seem to be coming to NBCOlympics.com in droves. Through five days, the Web site has drawn 17.7 million video streams, 21.1 million unique users and 373.9 million page views. That is up 705 percent, 90 percent and 63 percent, respectively, over the totals for the entire Athens Games.
One potential obstacle to NBC's renewed Olympics sales efforts is that many advertisers are tapped out of money to spend at this point in time, late in the summer.
One media buyer praised NBC for the way it has handled its on-air advertising and in the wake of the strong ratings, thought it was a good idea for NBC to go back into sale for the games. But the buyer added that "third quarter is so slow right now and not a lot of clients are ready to spend anymore money."
The buyer said NBC's sales teams are putting on a full-court press, with both sports sales and prime-time sales people making calls to agencies.
NBC also has been heavily promoting its new fall drama series My Own Worst Enemy, starring Christian Slater. But Magna's Sternberg said it is hard to tell whether that will translate into long-term viewership of that series. "Traditionally, promoting a new show during the Summer Olympics has not had much impact on the series' success," Sternberg said. "It will be interesting to see if that holds up again."