NBCU Goes for Gold At Sochi Winter Games

When it comes to the Olympics by the Black Sea, NBCUniversal expects to finish in the black.

NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus said the programmer had already garnered more than $800 million in ad-sales revenue for the Sochi Games, a record for the Winter Olympics, “and we’re going north; we’re doing quite well.

“Marketers and sponsors are buying one of the very few events that gather large numbers across all demographics in front of their televisions,” Lazarus said.

NBC Olympics has actually taken itself out of sale until it tallies the initial Nielsen performances.

Research shows that 76% of respondents intend to watch the Games, being held in the Black Sea resort community beginning on Feb. 6, with three new competitions. The Opening Ceremony is set for the following day, with the Closing Ceremony on Feb. 23.

NBCU’s profit forecast comes despite having spent $775 million on rights fees, part of a four-quadrennium, $4.4 billion package extending through the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.

NBCU sustained $223 million in losses in the Vancouver Olympics against higher rights fees ($820 million) paid by then-owner General Electric and an economy hampered by the recession. NBCU’s Sochi game plan is simple and big: Cover the entirety of the 15 sports.


“With the setting being the biggest country in the world, it’s only fitting that the Sochi Olympics are set to be the biggest Winter Olympics ever,” NBC Olympics executive producer Jim Bell said. “They’ve added new sports — for a total of 98 events — which appeal to a younger audience. You’re going to see team figure skating — one of the new events, the snowboard slopestyle event, Shaun White, and the women’s freestyle moguls,” Bell said. “To have a full night of competition before the Opening Ceremony is terrific.”

NBCU will present a Winter Olympics-record 539 hours of linear coverage from Sochi, 103 hours more than for the 2010 Games. That’s even though NBC’s total of 185 hours over three dayparts is slightly less than the 193.5 hours the Peacock network aired from Vancouver.

NBC’s curated primetime fare will encompass the best of figure skating, short track, speed skating, alpine skiing and snowboarding/freestyle. Daytime programming is highlighted by gold-medal finals in 11 of the 15 sports, including speed skating, short track, snowboarding and ice hockey.

As part of its cable-record 230 hours, NBCSN, which has supplanted USA Network as the home of Team USA on NBCU’s Olympic roster, will be home to the most extensive and live figure skating coverage in TV history.

Lazarus said NBCSN will add 5 million homes to boost its subscriber count to 85 million by the times the Games begin.

CNBC, MSNBC and USA are also in the linear mix with 36, 45 and 43 hours of coverage, respectively.


The biggest change from Vancouver will come on the digital front. Whereas NBCU only streamed two sports in 2010 — curling and hockey, encompassing 400 hours — Sochi, following in London Games’ footsteps, will become the first Winter Olympics in which all events will be live-streamed.

NBCOlympics.com and NBC Sports Live- Extra will present all 98 competitions from 15 sports across more than 1,000 hours.

Combining digital and linear, the 1,539 hours is more than the 1,254 for the two most recent Winter quadrennials: Vancouver (835) and Torino in 2006 (419).

Most of that will be available only to authenticated TV Everywhere users, whose ranks NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel said he expects to grow as more consumers have become familiar with the platform as a means of receiving sports and entertainment fare.

The verification process will become more facile for customers of Comcast’s Xfinity, Cablevision’s Optimum TV, Cox Communications, Verizon Communications’s FiOS TV and Midcontinent Communications, as those distributors will employ home auto-IP detection for the Olympic content. Comcast and Cablevision offered IP identification during the London Games.

Those who authenticate will be able to access Gold Zone, a hosted, whip-around service redolent of the ad-hoc highlights services proffered by DirecTV and NFL Network spotlighting pro football action on Sundays.

Helping to support the Games is Akamai Technologies, which is providing a complete suite of cloud services for online video streaming delivery, site performance and security services. Akamai is also backing DVR functions, such as pause and event rewinds.

On the viewing front, Comcast executive vice president and chief technology officer Tony Werner said at the recent Consumer Electronics Show that the cable company has some Ultra HD plans in store for NBCU’s presentation, in an effort to “stimulate the imagination” about the delivery of sporting events at high frame rates.

NBCUniversal officials are bullish about their economic prospects for the pricey 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

NBC Hopes Social, Digital Will Drive Ratings

How big will the Sochi Games be?

NBC certainly hopes its primetime delivery will approach that of the 2010 Games in Vancouver, when it averaged 24.4 million viewers, a 21% advance from the 20.2 million for the 2006 Torino Games.

Vancouver att racted 190 million viewers to some of the coverage on NBCU’s varied channels, making it the second most-watched Winter Olympics in history, behind the 204 million on CBS for Lillehammer in 1994. Viewers flocked to coverage then of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. (Kerrigan will be providing analysis for various NBCU platforms from Sochi.)

Without disclosing NBCU’s ratings guarantee, Seth Winter, executive vice president of sales and marketing for NBC Sports Group and NBCUniversal News Group, said that given the impact social media and digital extensions had on driving Nielsens from London in the summer of 2012, he expects the numbers will be closer to Vancouver than Torino. Tablet sales have surged the last few years, he noted, and the London experience showed consumers viewed Olympics content far longer on tablets than on smartphones.

Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development for NBCUniversal, hopes the programmer can maintain its hot streak with the Nielsens. “Fortunately, things have gone well recently, knock wood. We’ll know within three nights whether we have a hit on our hands,” he said. “Coming out of the Super Bowl, there will be lots of press about the Games. I think people are going to catch Olympic fever. It’s not a matter of people saying, ‘I’m coming home to watch the downhill, the luge or figure skating.’ It’s, ‘I’m coming home to watch the Olympics.’ ”

Pressed for a prognostication, Wurtzel noted: “Aft er Beijing hit 215 million who watched some of those Games, I said that with all the fractionalized media we would never see that level again. Then, London made it to 217 million. The Winter Games aren’t as big as the summer, but with all of the social media and friends telling friends, I’m confident that when we close the books, Sochi will rank among the top 10 to 15 most-watched events in TV history.”

— Mike Reynolds