Ad Sales for NBC’s Coverage of the Winter Olympics Are Starting to Pick Up

Part of what will be a $10 billion ad revenue year for NBCU

2018 is shaping up to be a monster year for NBC. Getty Images
Headshot of Chris Ariens

NBC Sports ad sales chief Dan Lovinger would like to dispel a myth: Young people don’t watch the Olympics on TV.

“The 17 days of the Olympics will reach more millennials than an entire year of MTV programming,” Lovinger said at an Advertisting Week panel all about NBC’s monster 2018 sports year. And he should know. He spent 8 years at MTV before joining NBC in 2011. He was named NBC Sports ad sales chief last year.

Still, NBC plans to use all the tools at its disposal to broadcast, stream, clip, share and otherwise tell the stories of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and for the next seven Olympics.

That includes working with partners BuzzFeed and Snapchat on as-yet announced projects and sharing hundreds of hours of clips on Facebook and YouTube. That’s a far cry from past Olympics when the billions spent on the rights to carry the games meant NBC also controlled how, when and where events would be shown.

During the Rio Summer Games, NBC counted more than 600 million video views on Facebook; more than 131 million people had 916 million Instagram interactions; 33 million Snapchatters, most under age 35, consumed NBC-partnered coverage in the U.S.; and more than 1 billion minutes of Olympics content was watched on YouTube, 70 percent on a mobile device.

“The numbers are blowing their minds,” said NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel about the reaction on social media platforms. “Snap will take it to a new level in Pyeongchang,” he predicted.

“It comes back to the viewer. What’s going to help tell the story,” added NBC Olympics ep Jim Bell, who said “there will be plenty of VR and AR.”

Ad sales for the Olympics started picking up after Labor Day, Lovinger said. “The single biggest reason advertisers gravitate to the Olympics is that it’s a collective experience,” he said. “It is far and away different than any sport or any other high-end content.”

NBCU is poised to have a $10 billion ad revenue year, thanks in large part to the Olympics and the Super Bowl, which will air on NBC five days before the Pyeongchang opening ceremony.

“The Olympics might come up at the Super Bowl. Just want to let you now that,” Bell joked.

Bell has been traveling to Pyeongchang regularly as preparations continue. “South Korea is entirely ready,” he said. “The country is getting very excited for it.”

Bell did acknowledge the elephant in the room: the current geo-political tension with neighboring North Korea.

“The increased rhetoric may be new here. But it is not new there,” said Bell. “It’s business as usual in South Korea.”

Zenkel said the IOC’s awarding of the next two Summer Olympic host cities simultaneously, Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028, “was a great day for us.”

In 2014 NBCU parent Comcast paid $7.75 billion to keep the Olympics on NBC until 2032. Bell called it “a very reasonable price. It was a no-brainer.”

“If someone said, ‘Do you want to keep going?’ we would,” said Zenkel.

And even as Bell continues to plan for Pyeongchang, now a little more than four months away, he’s planning a trip next month to Beijing, which will host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

“Clearly we have no regrets,” said Zenkel. “The Olympics are a powerful and magical event.”

NBC has the U.S. rights to the Olympics until 2032:

2018 Winter: Pyeongchang, South Korea
2020 Summer: Tokyo, Japan
2022 Winter: Beijing, China
2024 Summer: Paris, France
2026 Winter: TBD
2028 Summer: Los Angeles
2030 Winter: TBD
2032 Summer: TBD

@ChrisAriens Chris Ariens is the managing editor and director of video at Adweek.