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Sochi Olympics a ‘Tremendous Success’ for NBC, CEO Says

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Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) -- NBCUniversal, overcoming smaller prime-time TV audiences, views its Winter Olympics coverage in Sochi as a “tremendous success,” Chief Executive Officer Steve Burke said.

“In 2011 we made a major commitment of over $4 billion for the Olympic Games through 2020,” Burke, 55, said to employees in a Feb. 18 memo obtained by Bloomberg News. “The ratings and advertising sales for Sochi are making this look like a wise decision.”

While prime-time audiences are smaller than four years ago in Vancouver, the games are attracting viewers across the company’s networks and have more than doubled NBC’s nightly ratings. Through 11 days, NBC is averaging 23 million viewers in prime time, Burke wrote. That’s more than the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, which, like Sochi, happened early in the day for U.S. audiences. NBC Sports Network is generating record ratings and 27 percent more people are watching online.

Burke is showing that the Winter Olympics, once considered a loss-leader, can be profitable and a powerful tool to draw audiences to the cable and broadcast company. In advance of Sochi, the entertainment division of Comcast Corp. booked more than $800 million in ad sales, while spending $775 million on the U.S. TV rights and committing about $100 million for the production.

NBC’s dedicated Olympics website and apps have drawn 45 million unique visitors, up from the 2010 Games in Vancouver, Burke said. The network, which is airing hosted coverage nightly, also is putting almost every event online and making it easy for viewers to share video clips on social media outlets Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc.

‘Tonight Show’

Coverage on NBC Sports Network, which is providing 12 hours of live programming daily, is drawing twice the audience of the London Summer Games, Burke said. The Olympics also helped promote Jimmy Fallon and provided a big lead-in as the comedian took over as host of “The Tonight Show,” he said.

Ratings outside of prime time, including daytime, late night and weekend, also have been higher, Burke said.

Comcast, which plans to buy New York-based Time Warner Cable Inc. for $45.2 billion, fell 3.7 percent to $51.57 yesterday in New York. The stock has gained 24 percent in the past 12 months.

“Through Sunday, 164 million Americans have watched our Olympics coverage,” Burke wrote. “When we add the consumers accessing our content through nontraditional platforms, more people have experienced these Winter Olympics than ever before.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Andy Fixmer in Los Angeles at afixmer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net