The Winter Olympics Exceeds NBC Sports’ Ratings Guarantees, Freeing Up More Ad Inventory to Sell

Unlike the Rio Games, massive makegoods won't be required

NBC Sports said 23 million are tuning in each night on average to watch Olympians like Chloe Kim compete in the Games. Getty Images
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Going into the Winter Olympics, NBC Sports had hoped to avoid a repeat of the Rio Games, where linear ratings fell 21 percent from London four years earlier. As a result, the company didn’t meet its advertiser guarantees and was forced to use a chunk of its inventory for makegoods to marketers.

So NBC Sports ad sales chief Dan Lovinger and his team set their Pyeongchang expectations lower, to great success: NBC Broadcasting and Sports chairman Mark Lazarus told reporters today that the company has exceeded its guarantees during the first five days of the Winter Olympics, and is therefore taking a portion of advertising inventory it had held back for makegoods and is heading back into the market for new business during the Games.

“There’s been some things written about sponsors who aren’t spending as much, and that’s unfortunate for them, because what’s happening, especially with our new advertisers”—which represent 60 percent of the Olympics inventory—“they’re reaping great benefits of these huge American audiences that are assembling and being rallied around the great athletes on our platforms,” said Lazarus. “The advertisers are already letting us know that they’re seeing results, they’re feeling very positive about their investment in the Olympics. Our ratings success has increased our capacity [in ways] that we weren’t expecting.”

Lazarus said Lovinger and his team are now in “active discussions” with current Olympics advertisers to increase their ad buy, as well as new advertisers to come into the Games. “If you want to sell your product in these next two weeks, we’re the window to the consumer.”

To date, the Winter Olympics in primetime are averaging 24 million viewers across all platforms (6 percent below Sochi numbers), and 22 million on NBC alone. But Lazarus noted that many other dayparts are up, and Pyeongchang has already surpassed the overall digital consumption of the Sochi games four years ago. “This turned out to be the most consumed Winter Games in history,” he said.

While past Olympics saw audience spikes for specific events, this year, “people are coming for the Olympics, and they’re staying at a relatively even level throughout the evening,” he said. “People are coming for the Games, regardless of what the specific content is.”

That’s a promising development, given that some of the biggest U.S. stars in the Winter Games—including Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin—have yet to compete.

For this Olympics, NBC Sports switched its ratings guarantee for advertisers from households to Total Audience Delivery. TAD rolls up a telecast’s linear, digital and out-of-home total viewer numbers, factoring in viewership on broadcast and cable networks, along with streaming on mobile phones, tablets, connected TVs and desktop computers. (While each night’s TAD number will be available the following afternoon, the out-of-home portion of the metric won’t be added in until several days later).

According to Lazarus, almost 90 percent of the Winter Olympics ad buys were across all platforms. To avoid a repeat of Rio, Lazarus said NBC’s TAD guarantees were below Sochi’s ratings (NBC averaged 21.4 million viewers in prime time during the 2014 Games). “We anticipated some drop-off in audience from four years ago,” he said.

Last month, Lazarus predicted the Winter Olympics audience across all platforms would be higher overall than Sochi’s, but the linear numbers would be “somewhat less” than during the 2014 Games.

On Thursday, as NBC Sports’ Olympics coverage began, Lovinger said he had topped $900 million in national ad sales for Pyeongchang, which is “a Winter Games record. Advertisers continue to support the Olympics because they recognize the unparalleled value and reach it provides over 18 days and nights.”

Any additional inventory sold during the rest of the Games will add to that number, but Lazarus didn’t expect the final ad revenue tally to top $1 billion.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.