Winter Olympics Update: NBC Is In the Pink

With ratings guarantees nailed down, network begins selling inventory held back for ADUs

While the conjunctivitis-plagued Bob Costas may not look back fondly on the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sochi’s stellar ratings performance has left NBC’s ad sales team in the pink.

According to NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus, the network has begun making available inventory it had originally held back in case it found itself having to make up for any ratings shortfalls.

Speaking from Sochi during a Wednesday night conference call (or around 2:30 p.m. EST), Lazarus confirmed that some of the inventory held back for ADUs has been “freed up,” adding that NBC Sports Group ad sales chief Seth Winter and NBCUniversal ad sales president Linda Yaccarino are now selling those spots at a premium.

“It’s a prime-time rate card,” Lazarus said, without providing any specifics on pricing. “It’s a luxury we have today.”

Should early estimates pan out, NBC stands to rake in as much as $1 billion in national and local Olympics ad revenue.

Some of the spots that had been saved for a rainy day will be used for in-house promotional purposes. There are plenty of new properties to spotlight—The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon bows on Feb. 17, and Seth Meyers takes the helm of Late Night the following Monday.

NBC also has a pair of new comedies to talk up in About a Boy and Growing Up Fisher, as well as the upcoming J.J. Abrams supernatural drama, Believe.

Through the first five days of competition and the Opening Ceremony, NBC’s prime-time Olympics coverage is averaging 24.9 million live-plus-same-day viewers and a 13.9 household rating—on par with the 2010 Vancouver Games. While NBC declined to comment on its ratings targets, media buyers in January said the network was making lower guarantees than in years past, setting a 12.6 household rating as the benchmark for Sochi.

As for Costas, the Iron Horse of Olympics broadcasters announced Wednesday morning that he would sit out a second night as he continues to suffer from a tenacious case of pink eye. Today show host Matt Lauer will again spell Costas, who before benching himself had posted a streak of 157 consecutive nights of serving as NBC’s prime-time Olympics host, a run that began in the 1988 Seoul Summer Games.

Costas this morning called in to Today to inform Lauer that he’d be performing mop-up duty for another night. “I can’t possibly be in the studio,” Costas said. “You’re coming out of the bullpen again tonight.”