NBCU Eyes Ratings Gold


Viewership for NBC Universal’s coverage of the Winter Games in Vancouver is expected to be Olympic-sized.

NBCU president of research Alan Wurtzel predicted that some 200 million viewers will watch at least a portion of the 17-day Olympics from Feb. 12 through Feb. 28.

Wurtzel, during a Jan. 28 presentation detailing some of the programmer’s multiplatform research-measurement plans for the Olympics at NBC’s offices here, said the consumer “intent to view” the Vancouver Games is “huge” and would increase after Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7.

With 200 million viewers, the Vancouver Olympics — the first to be shot entirely in high-definition — would surpass the 184 million unduplicated viewers for the 2006 Winter Games from Torino, Italy, and the 187 million who witnessed at least part of the action four years earlier from Salt Lake City.

Relative to the Winter Games, that would still trail the 204 million unique viewers for the 1994 Olympics from Lillehammer, Norway, which benefited from the notorious Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding figure-skating intrigue.

For the more expansive Summer Games, NBC drew 215 million viewers to the 2008 Olympics from Beijing, the most-viewed event in U.S. TV history.

Cable figures to contribute significantly to NBCU’s audience from Vancouver. With its coverage from Torino, which has a 6-hour difference from the East Coast, NBCU counted a total of 62.3 million unduplicated viewers, 31% more than cable’s reach from Salt Lake City. Cable coverage from Torino averaged a 0.51 household rating and 704,000 viewers.

All told, NBCU will present a record 835 hours of Winter Olympics coverage across various TV and advanced media platforms, more than double its 419 hours from four years ago. On linear TV, CNBC is scheduled to show 101.5 hours; MSNBC, 100 hours; and USA Network, 41. Universal HD will encore USA’s coverage.

NBC will present 193.5 hours, setting the pace in primetime, where it has reportedly guaranteed advertisers a 14.0 rating.

Although the Games will encounter sweeps competition, including going head-to-head against Fox’s American Idol on five nights, most expect Canada’s more viewer-friendly time zone to give Vancouver a Nielsen leg up on the 2006 Games, which averaged 20.2 million in primetime.

TV viewership, though, won’t be the only numbers NBCU will slice and dice from Canada. Building on the research it conducted in Beijing, NBCU will — in the research realm’s equivalent of the nations’ medal standings — again provide a daily TAMI (total audience measurement index). Rentrak will supply video-on-demand data from set-top boxes; Omniture and phone carriers will gauge mobile VOD and unique WAP visits; Omniture will measure online uniques; and Nielsen will keep tabs on the persons-2-plus counts for NBC and its cable cousins.

Looking to provide quantifiable single-source, cross-platform measurement, NBCU will use data from Arbitron’s Portable People Meter service in 33 markets, combined with Internet data from ComScore and Omniture. The system will provide data through a 2,000-member panel sample that is projectable across 115 million U.S. TV homes, according to Wurtzel.

Social networking, and its effect on audience participation and advertising buzz and recall, will hail from Keller Fay’s Talk Tracks.

TiVo is also in the Games, giving NBCU second-by-second set-top box data aimed at measuring audience retention for both the athletic competitions and the commercials that run during the Vancouver coverage.

As was also the case in Beijing, NBCU will serve up a three-screen qualitative study, via a partnership with iMMi. Some 40 panelists will use a sophisticated phone to measure their Olympic viewing on TV, online and on mobile devices.

This time, though, the iMMi study will gauge viewing across all NBCU TV networks and exposure to nearly 100 different Olympic-related sites, as well as provide detailed information on specific video being viewed.

New media options notwithstanding, TV will remain the delivery system of choice. In Beijing, 93% of Olympic interaction centered around the original small screen, and Wurtzel doesn’t anticipate the usage patterns to change dramatically.

He does expect a significant increase in video, though, from NBCU’s mobile WAP site.

With 6.5 million unique visitors, the platform far exceeded internal projections of 1 million for Beijing.

Consumers expressed displeasure with the experience, though. That didn’t surprise Wurtzel, who noted that 3G phones at that time were relatively new and few and far between, with video quality lagging today’s standard.

He expects a significant uptick in this delivery from Vancouver, given that 25% of handsets today are “smart phones that pick up video in a positive way.”