Magazine article Variety

Going for Gold

Magazine article Variety

Going for Gold

Article excerpt

NBCU heads to the London Olympics with a battle plan to digitally stream live events and brand a new sports cable sibling to help it overcome a significant time-zone hurdle and make its investment in the Games pay off.

As NBCU plans to cover its first Olympics as a Comcast company, the network is aiming to use a number of platforms to wind up on the winner's platform. It's a gameplan that includes streaming video to augment broadcast and cable coverage, along with establishing an identity for the rebranded NBC Sports Network and integration of other Comcast cable outlets - all to ensure that its $4 billion investment in the Games through 2020 pays off.

Certainly, there won't be a shortage of coverage at the London Games, which run July 27 through Aug. 12. NBCU provided 3,000 total hours of programming from Beying in 2008, and the network plans to exceed that in London. Moreover, NBCU is saying publicly that it already has sold as much as $900 million in advertising - much of that to Olympic partners that need to buy media to activate their significant investments in the Games.

According to Larry Woodard, head of Graham Stanley Advertising, the network needs to book a bit more than $200 miUion to break even on what it paid for the rights.

But there's more to these Games than merely turning a profit.

"The Olympics provides a tremendous opportunity to build awareness for the NBC fall lineup," says John Miller, of NBC Sports Group. "We plan to take full advantage of that opportunity."

By most measures, NBCU's coverage of the 2008 Games won a gold medal for ratings. Over 16 nights, 211 million Americans watched at least some of the Beijing Games, beating the previous record of 209 million set during the Atlanta Games in 1996. And the 2010 Winter Games from Vancouver averaged 24.4 million viewers in primetime, up considerably from the 2006 event in Italy (20.2 million).

These are high bars to clear for London, especially considering that the five-hour time difference between the British capital and the East Coast, which rises to eight hours on the West Coast, will prevent events from being shown uve on NBC in primetime - although they will appear live on the network's other platforms.

"We have covered nine Olympic Games in the past 23 years," notes Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics. "Of those, only three have been in a U.S. time zone, and yet all have drawn and sustained massive authences to our coverage, especially for our primetime coverage."

Zenkel adds that as a Comcast company, NBCU has more outlets to reach Olympics viewers, including the nascent NBC Sports Network and 11 regional sports networks. "And we have access to technology that will provide the most complete viewing experience of any sporting event in history," he says.

Online streaming figures to play a bigger role than ever. "Every competition will be available live on at least one NBCUniversal platform," Zenkel says, "either television or digitally streamed."

Before Beijing, NBC had shown only one Olympics event live online, a 2006 hockey game. In 2008, it offered 2,200 live hours of coverage online, drawing more than 72 million video streams. However, for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, NBC cut back on live online coverage - to around 400 hours (drawing 45 million vidstreams), featuring mostly lesspopular events - in the belief that most users check in online simply for highlights, features and other information, rather than to watch live events. …

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