Olympics aren't about gold to NBC

  • Article by: MEG JAMES and SCOTT COLLINS LOS ANGELES TIMES
  • Updated: July 25, 2012 - 10:33 PM

Technically, NBC will lose money broadcasting the Games. But the network is banking on other payoffs.

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Dave Mazza, engineer-in-chief for NBC Olympics, at the network's control room in the International Broadcast Center in London, July 25, 2012.

Photo: Jed Jacobsohn, Associated Press - Nyt

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LOS ANGELES - No one likes losing money. But to NBC, the $100 million of red ink it may spill on the Summer Olympics is more like an investment -- and a lesson in TV Economics 101.

Just about everyone agrees that the $1.3 billion NBC is shelling out for the Summer Olympics won't be recouped by ad revenue. But the Summer Games will pay dividends to NBC that won't show up directly on a balance sheet.

Among other things, the network will have a large captive audience -- and it will take full advantage of that, rolling out two new sitcoms during the Olympics and using commercial breaks to inundate viewers with promos for its fall prime-time lineup. While the Games are on, it will have valuable exclusive content for its critical and still highly profitable "Today" franchise.

The Games also provide a chance to groom two of NBC's newest personalities, Savannah Guthrie and Ryan Seacrest. Last but not least: It helps NBC build its sports division, including its newly renamed NBC Sports Network, a little-watched cable channel formerly called Versus that NBCUniversal's owners hope to build into a viable competitor to ESPN.

"NBC's problem has been the lack of viewers coming to the network day in and day out," said Sam Armando, director of strategic intelligence for the Chicago-based advertising firm Starcom MediaVest Group Exchange, a part of Starcom MediaVest Group. "And here comes the Olympics, which gives them the opportunity to showcase the network over two weeks."

And what a showcase. NBC expects the London Games to draw nearly 200 million Americans watching at least part of the telecasts over 17 days. The network paid $1.18 billion for the television rights, and it's spending about $100 million more for production costs.

"It is so much bigger than a sporting event and draws viewers who are not traditional sports fans," said Alan Wurtzel, NBCUniversal's president of research and media development.

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