NBC's Olympics Ratings Slip to 30-Year Low

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NBC's Olympics Ratings Slip to 30-Year Low


By Steve Gorman

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), October 02, 2000


LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The United States may have grabbed the most gold medals, but NBC's tape-delayed coverage of the Summer Games from Sydney limped across the finish line at a 30-year low in Olympic television ratings.

Through the closing ceremonies Sunday, the Olympics scored an average U.S. household rating of 13.8, roughly equal to 14.1 million homes, according to figures from Nielsen Media Research Inc. made available Monday. Each rating point represents 1,022,000 homes, or 1 percent of U.S. households with TV sets.

That average was down considerably from the most recent overseas Summer Olympics and stands as the lowest-rated U.S. TV viewership of the Olympics -- summer or winter -- since the Mexico City Games of 1968, which garnered 13.5.

The 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain, averaged a 17.1 rating, and the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea, averaged a 17.5. Not surprisingly, the home-front Atlanta Games in 1996 tower over those with a hefty 21.6 average.

(continues. . .)

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), October 02, 2000.

Indeed, viewership of the Sydney Games was so hum-drum by Olympic standards that Friday's finale of the CBS reality show ''Big Brother,'' in which a 21-year-old college student named Eddie won $500,000, topped NBC's Olympics telecast during the 8-9 p.m. hour among the 18-to-49-year-old viewers most prized by advertisers. The Olympics still won the hour in total viewers, however.

And NBC executives trumpeted the fact that the Olympics dominated prime-time programming during each of the Games' 17 nights. ``We live in a changing television landscape, yet the Olympics remain the strongest television franchise in the U.S. and the world,'' NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol said in a statement from Sydney.

Still, after paying $705 million to broadcast the Sydney Games and selling $900 million worth of Olympics advertising, NBC fell far short of the viewership targets promised its advertisers.

The final ratings tally is more than two ratings points below the 16.1 minimum average the network guaranteed Olympic sponsors, forcing NBC to compensate sponsors with an average of one minute of free give-back ads per hour every night of the Games starting with Day Six on Sept. 20, NBC Sports spokeswoman Cameron Blanchard told Reuters.

That would amount to 36 minutes of advertising time -- or 72 half-minute spots -- between the prime hours of 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. during the last 12 days of the Games.

With the price of a 30-second prime-time Olympic spot reportedly averaging $615,000, 36 minutes of give-backs would be worth nearly $44.3 million. By comparison, 30 seconds of advertising typically goes for $2 million during the Super Bowl and about $500,000 on the hit NBC medical drama ``ER,'' said Stacy Lynne Koerner, of T.N. Media, which buys network time on behalf of advertisers.

NBC declined to put a value on its ad time but has acknowledged curtailing promotional spots it planned for its own fall lineup to make room for the give-backs.

NBC officials concede the ratings suffered from the tape delay of its broadcasts, scheduled that way due to the 15-hour time difference between Sydney and New York. As a result, viewers who listened to the radio or even picked up a newspaper during the day often knew the outcome of the events before sitting down to watch them on TV.

But NBC insists other factors were to blame, including lack of star athletes during the first week. American athletes collected a total of 97 medals, including 39 gold -- the most of any team -- and were stars of high-profile track and field events, but the gymnastics competition during the first week lacked stand-out performances comparable to the likes of Mary Lou Retton or the ``Magnificent Seven'' of Games past.

The fact that the Games were held in September, when many families are juggling work and school schedules, also hurt ratings, as did ever-growing competition from cable, digital TV and the Internet, NBC spokeswoman Blanchard said.

She also said the five-hour duration of most of the evening Olympic telecasts this year -- as opposed to the typical four-hour schedule of years past -- worked against the network.

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), October 02, 2000.

For me the decisive factor was ...(drumroll)...NBC's dreadful coverage of the Olympics. Too many ads. Too much folderol and fluff. Too much soap opera and vacuous commentary. Not enough competition shown straight through. Yeeecch! It was sodden and sticky stuff.

If they'd just shown more sports and less crap, I'd have watched twice as much!

-- Brian McLaughlin (brianm@ims.com), October 03, 2000.

I had as much patience waiting for the freaking Olympic commercials to get over with, as I did waiting for a website to load from my puter. Who cares? Just two days ago medals were won by the US. Do you remember who they were givien to and in what event? See, you can't -- so it really does not matter. In the big picture of life and death -- survival, it's not how many medals you have won, but how you function in society.

-- ~~~~~~~~ (~~~@~~~.xcopm), October 03, 2000.

I love the Olympics and I watched it all. However, I commented from the first that it should have been left with ABC. I missed the "home visits" where the network went to the villages and towns of the athletes and visited with family etc. There was some of this, but not enough. Also they could have spread out the coverage a little more and encompassed more sports. Perhaps I just missed it, but after seeing the ads on TV about the black fencers in Harlem, I wanted to see their Olympic performance. Never did find out what happened with them. I felt that they spent too much time on certain events, excluding others. Rowing, canoeing and khyaks were over covered and the same with beach vollyball. Just my two bits worth.

-- Taz (jharal2197@aol.com), October 03, 2000.

The Olympics were on TV?

-- Uncle Deedah (unkeed@yahoo.com), October 03, 2000.

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