Ratings, Mistakes, And Some Surprises on NBC Olympics Call

By Alex Weprin 

NBC Sports held a conference call with reporters this morning, outlining the coverage so far, and some of the lessons learned.

Not surprisingly, NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus and NBC’s research chief Alan Wurtzel began the call talking about the ratings, which have placed above the Beijing games every single night so far.

“I don’t think any of us here or any of you frankly expected us to be having this dialog right now,” Lazarus said, adding that the numbers were a “very pleasant surprise.” 38.7 million watched Tuesday night delivering a 21.8 rating/35 share; the best non-U.S. Summer Olympic night since Montreal in 1976.

Other surprises included the cost of the games. Lazarus acknowledges that NBC was expecting to lose around $200 million for these games, but now says “there’s a chance” that the network could even make a bit of money, when it is all said and done.

NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus

Then there was the sleeper sport of the games so far: Archery, which drew 1.5 million viewers on TV, more than Olympics basketball games so far. “Archery is the new curling,” quipped Wurtzel. “Maybe it’s the ‘Hunger Games’ phenomenon.”

The executives addressed the criticism the network has faced on social media platforms, with Lazarus noting that “some of [the criticism] is in fact fair, and we are listening.”

That said, he defended NBC’s edit of the women’s gymnastics final, saying that the Russian performance that was cut was “immaterial to the outcome” and done so purely for time reasons. He challenged anyone listening to re-watch the full event online, which he says would confirm that the cut was fair.

With regards to the #NBCFail hashtag on twitter, Lazarus said of online criticism: “We think it is a very loud minority, the silent majority has been with us the last six days.”

Lazarus also apologized for the “Today” promo that spoiled a swimming event earlier this week, and also said that the network’s Twitter feed would send out alerts about live-streaming earlier, so that people wanting to watch wont miss any part of the events due to pre-roll ads.

On the digital side, Wurtzel touted the numbers one would expect, but there were a few surprises. The most-watched event live online was the women’s gymnastics final, which saw 1.5 million streams.

Lazarus also said NBC was open to the possibility of offering a paid online streaming package for viewers that don’t subscribe to cable, but that NBC would “discuss it” with its cable partners before making any firm decisions.