NBC Expects 15 Percent Increase in Ad Sales for Rio Olympics

  • Having more events live in prime time will help lure viewers
  • Some top golfers, NBC employees staying home over Zika fears

NBC expects to sell at least 15 percent more advertising for the Rio Olympics next month than it did during the London games in 2012, benefiting from having more live events in prime time.

Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal has deals with more than 100 Olympics advertisers, Seth Winter, executive vice president of sales at NBC Sports, said at a press event Monday in New York. The network sold “a little over $1 billion” in national advertising during the London games, he said.

NBC Olympics Snapshot
Advertisers 100+
NBC Rio Staff 2,600
Coverage 6,700+ hours
Source: Network executives

With just a one-hour time difference between Rio and New York, more U.S. viewers will have the opportunity to see more events live. London is five hours later than the U.S. east coast, and in 2012 many events were over and the results known by the time American sports fans were settling into their recliners for the day’s events.

“We are ready and Rio is ready” said Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports. “This will be the biggest media event in history.”

The higher ad sales are a reminder that major brand marketers continue to spend heavily on commercial time for live sports, which still draw big TV audiences. Viewers will see more auto ads, in part because NBC had exclusive arrangements with General Motors Co. and BMW AG in previous games, Winter said.

NBC executives also addressed concerns about the Zika virus in Brazil. Lazarus said “less than two handfuls” of about 2,600 NBC employees headed to Rio asked not to go due to Zika concerns. They were reassigned to work on Olympics coverage from NBC Sports headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut.

Golfers Abstain

Several top male golfers, including Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, have chosen not to play in the Olympics because of Zika. NBC’s Golf Channel will broadcast the golf, which is returning as an Olympic sport for the first time in more than a century.

“It’s surprising and disappointing that so many male golfers have decided not to participate,” Lazarus said. “I think these gentlemen will look back on this and wish they had participated.”

NBC will address “all related issues” surrounding the games during a special one-hour live preview on Aug. 4, a day before the opening ceremony, Lazarus said. Besides the Zika virus, another concern for NBC executives has been the pollution in Guanabara Bay, where sailing events are scheduled, he said.

‘We’re Prepared’

“Rio has cleaned it to some degree but not to the level that they promised,” Lazarus said. “We’re keeping an eye on it. If there’s stuff floating in the bay it could affect the competition. We don’t anticipate that happening but we’re prepared for it.”

Lazarus added that every Olympic games has “had issues,” concerns ranging from terrorism fears in Sochi to traffic in London.

“All of those things have always worked themselves through,” he said.

NBC expects its Rio Olympics coverage to be more profitable than London four years ago, Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh said at an investor conference in May.

The network pays about $1 billion every two years for its Olympics rights, NBCUniversal Chief Executive Officer Steve Burke said last month.

“I actually think we’re going to set a record, beat the London record, because this is a live Olympics, swimming, all the finest are swimming, track and field, volleyball and gymnastics will be live at night on the East Coast in prime time, which will add a level of drama,” Burke said at the time.

NBC plans to air more than 6,700 hours of Olympics events live on TV or streamed on the Web in August. The Aug. 5 opening ceremony will be broadcast on a one-hour delay to give the network time to put it “in context” for viewers, Lazarus said. NBC aired the opening ceremonies on tape delay during the Olympics in London and Sochi, he said.

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