NBC chases millennials for Olympic strategy

Every viewer counts in its new audience count


Cheerleaders of North Korea await the start of the opening ceremony of the Olympics.
Reuters Cheerleaders of North Korea await the start of the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

Two years ago, NBC’s Summer Olympics audience in Rio fell sharply, especially among millennials, forcing the broadcaster to give advertisers free airtime to make up for the shortfall.

This year, for the winter games in South Korea, the network hopes to avoid a similar fate by selling commercials a new way — based on total viewers regardless of how they’re watching. So whether a fan is following figure skating on the NBC broadcast channel or tuned into curling online, that person will count the same toward the audience NBC is promising to advertisers — and cost the same for a marketer to reach.

“A viewer is a viewer, regardless of what platform they’re watching on,” Dan Lovinger, executive vice president for ad sales at NBC Sports, said in an interview.

The change shows how programmers such as NBCUniversal, Comcast Corp.’s entertainment division, are trying to adapt to a world where more people watch online and fewer watch on television at home.

NFL ratings slumped 9.7 percent this past season after an eight percent drop the previous year. Last Sunday’s Super Bowl, also on NBC, drew the smallest audience in nine years.

At the summer games in Rio, NBC was forced to give advertisers “make goods,” or free commercial time, after providing separate guarantees for TV and online audiences and then coming up short on television viewers.

Such promises become daunting as more consumers watch programs both ways. NBC is airing 2,400 hours of Olympics this year on its broadcast network, cable channels such as NBCSN, CNBC and USA, and online.


NBC tallied up its total Olympics viewership two years ago and found that online audiences and those tuned in to its NBCSN cable sports network lifted total ratings by 7 percent, or almost 2 million people.

That would have amounted to similarly higher advertising revenue had NBC successfully employed its new strategy, Lovinger said.



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