NBC Shapes Up for Olympic Ad Push

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NBC Cable Networks vice president of local ad sales Brian Hunt — a former Tele-Communications Inc. sales executive — believes he knows what affiliates are looking for in terms of sales support.

With that in mind, Hunt guided the development of NBC Cable's extensive affiliate sales kit for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Since early May, he's visited all the MSOs — and he's received some positive feedback.

Both AT&T Broadband senior vice president Judi Heady and Cox Communications Inc. vice president of ad sales Billy Farina told Multichannel News
they're happy with the kits and look forward to using them to generate local sales leads.

The local ad-sales window for CNBC and MSNBC affiliates officially opened on May 9.

There are three minutes of local avails per hour, which translates into 1,100 30-second spots. CNBC's spots are available once the financial markets close; MSNBC's inventory is spread across daytime and late-night dayparts.

For last year's Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, NBC offered cable affiliates 1,600 local units across 268 hours of cable coverage.

Sales kits were mailed to 750 affiliate and interconnect ad-sales offices in early May and handed to attendees at that month's Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau Local Cable Sales Management Conference. Their centerpiece: a pair of CD-ROMs containing research data; Olympic rules and restrictions pertaining to sponsorships; and a DVD-based sales-training video.

NBC Cable also is offering affiliates two versions of an "Official Tune-in Viewer's Guide." The guide — which MSOs may customize by placing their logo on the cover — can be sold at any retail outlet that doesn't compete with a U.S. Olympic Committee sponsor. A condensed 16-page version can be given away free as part of an in-store or direct-mail promotion.

Affiliates also received three taggable promo spots for either broadcast or cable placement. Another eight taggable spots — exclusively for cable — will be shipped out in September or October.

BRIGHTER OUTLOOK

Unlike the Sydney Games and most other past Olympics, the Salt Lake City events will air mostly live. It's the first primarily live, domestic Winter Olympics since the 1980 competition in Lake Placid, N.Y. — and that "ratchets up the excitement" for both viewers and sponsors, said NBC Cable Distribution president David Zaslav.

Cox's Farina agreed with that assessment.

The nine-month sales lead time for the Salt Lake Games is the same affiliates had for Sydney. But last time out, such major MSOs as Time Warner Cable and Comcast Corp. had only a few weeks to sell ads because they hadn't struck an Olympic carriage deal. This time will be different.

"All the Olympic MSO [carriage] deals are now in place," said Hunt.

Unsurprisingly, the late-starting MSOs reported disappointing Olympic sales.

"We made some hay with it," said Comcast senior vice president of ad sales Roger Sverdlik, "though we certainly didn't make a killing, since we came in late."

Cable One Inc. was also late out of the Olympic sales blocks. The MSO was also hampered by "not having solid insertion in all our markets for CNBC and MSNBC," said vice president of ad sales Ron Pancratz.

On the other hand, Zaslav said, "many [MSOs] did very well" in generating [local] Olympic dollars.

AT&T Broadband and Cox were the first MSOs to come aboard — in June and September of 1999, respectively — by both renewing carriage of MSNBC and CNBC and signing NBC Cable's long-term Olympic carriage pact (through 2008). That deal includes a $1-per-year, per-subscriber surcharge.

But those MSOs have remained tight-lipped about their Sydney sales.

NBC's coverage of 15 winter sports from Salt Lake City will start Feb. 8 and conclude Feb. 24.

In a video shown at an NBC Cable press briefing last month, MSNBC Olympics host Jim Lampley said "a little more than 80 percent" of that cable coverage will be live — and two-thirds will be shown at times when there isn't any Olympic coverage on the NBC broadcast network.

All told, CNBC and MSNBC will offer 200-plus hours of coverage, versus 150 for the Peacock Network. The full schedule won't be disclosed until December.

RATINGS RUNDOWN

NBC executives said CNBC's coverage from Sydney generated ratings 61 percent higher than its regularly scheduled fare, while MSNBC's Olympic coverage surpassed its regular lineup by 268 percent.

On a household basis, however, the NBC broadcast network's pre-taped Sydney coverage lagged 36 percent behind the mostly live Atlanta Summer Olympics in 1996, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

And even though MSNBC and CNBC's Olympic numbers were higher than those for regularly-scheduled programming, the cablecasts came in lower than the average household and key demo ratings earned by Turner Network Television's all-daytime Winter Olympics coverage from Nagano, Japan, in 1998. MSOs at the time reported generally lackluster local sales for that Olympics and the 1994 Winter Games from Lillehammer, Norway.

On the positive side, Olympic audiences tend to be well-educated, affluent and young, as 64 percent of viewers are below age 50, NBC said. And due to such female-friendly events as figure skating, the 1998 Winter Games attracted an audience that was 52 percent female.

REP REPORT

Hunt was unable to estimate how much local revenues the Sydney Games had generated for affiliates, which did not report those figures to the networks. But he said that Adlink and AT&T Broadband's systems in Denver and San Francisco were successful in selling the Sydney Games.

Adlink executive vice president Hank Oster said the Los Angeles interconnect garnered $3.2 million from the Sydney Olympics, $1.2 million of which came from the CNBC and MSNBC local avails. The balance, he said, came from package buys that involved other networks.

The Winter Olympics won't match that sales volume, Oster said, because "the Winter games never have the cachet of the Summer [Games]."

The automotive, retail and financial categories were the national top performers for Sydney's local avails, said Hunt. In Salt Lake, affiliates will look to crack new segments, he added.

"There are no cable [sponsorship] exclusives," so operators aren't limited as to the clients or categories they can pitch, Hunt said.

At NCC — which encountered some difficulty in netting major-market spot packages for Sydney owing to the late arrival of Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Cablevision Systems Corp. — some current Olympics packages extend beyond the 16 days of Salt Lake coverage. To this point, though, the rep has not packaged any deal involving future NBC Olympic telecasts, said NCC vice president of Western region sales Jody Wittern.

The automotive, telecommunications and soft-drink categories were NCC's strongest for the Sydney games, according to Wittern.

The Winter Olympics "could appeal to a lot of new categories beyond the traditional," she added, citing department stores and home-improvement stores within the retail segment.

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