Olympics Won’t Help NBC Win Sweeps

NBC’s 17 nights of prime-time Winter Olympics coverage will not be strong enough to propel the network to win the February sweeps in the key adults 18-49 demographic.

Through the first three weeks of sweeps, ABC was leading the race with a 5.6, compared to NBC’s 5.0 and Fox’s 4.9. CBS, which, unlike ABC and Fox, chose to not air primarily first-run programming during the sweeps, was averaging a 3.5.

Partially to blame is the competition NBC faced. Perhaps the best example of how aggressively networks programmed against the Olympics was its biggest night, last Thursday, the women’s figure skating finals. From 8 to 9 p.m., CBS aired a first-run Survivor, ABC aired an original Dancing with the Stars, and Fox slated a special American Idol. Both Idol (9.7) and Survivor (5.4) drew higher 18-49 demo ratings than the Olympics (4.5). Dancing with the Stars recorded a 3.7, but the first hour was the recap portion of a two-hour show. In the second hour, Dancing with the Stars improved to a 6.2. The Olympics won that hour with an 8.0.

“We wish prime time would have performed at the high end of our expectations,” Randy Falco, president and COO of NBC Universal Television Group, said, “but we have added programming and content that was very well-received, and can be studied as a template for the future. Our Olympic strategy has evolved so we reach our audience through various means—network, cable, Internet, VOD, wireless, to name a few.”

But Falco conceded that the aggressiveness of the competing broadcast networks did affect NBC’s ratings. “The Olympics have never faced such competitive programming,” Falco said.