In 11 days, the youth of the world will gather in London for the Summer Games and the opening ceremony from Olympic Stadium.
For most Americans, the various linear and digital platforms of NBCUniversal will be the prism from which they engage with the XXX Olympiad. London will mark the first Games under Comcast's watch since it assumed a controlling interest in NBCU in January 2011. The quadrennial presentation, unfolding from July 27-August 12, will also be the first not helmed by Dick Ebersol in more than two decades, although the former NBC Sports and Olympic chairman is serving as an adviser to his successor Mark Lazarus.
It was the new NBC Sports Group chairman's call to make London the "Digital Games." That means for the first time, "every frame" of all 32 sports and 302 medal competitions will be available on TV or streamed over various platforms.
All in, NBCUniversal is planning 5,535 hours of coverage, almost 2,000 more than the Beijing Olympics in 2008. More than 3,500 hours will be available on computers, tablets and smartphones. An NBCOlympicsLive Extra app for streaming and an NBCOlympics app - which, among other features, will coordinate attendant athlete information with primetime coverage - launched on July 15.
To access most of the content - the live events and the myriad athlete bios and other pieces NBCU has created - video subscribers must authenticate. NBCU is using myriad marketing resources to explain the verification process and encourage users to register. As NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel said in an interview: "This is a unique moment in time, an opportunity for MVPDs to demonstrate how important TV Everywhere is to their business."
Still, those all-encompassing views, stimulated by social media - including a new partnership with Facebook and an expected deal with Twitter that will go beyond the Twitter Tracker that was introduced for the Vancouver Games in 2010 - are not only aimed at bolstering Olympic awareness, but pushing viewers to primetime, still the main revenue driver for the quadrennial.
At a media event held at Saturday Night Live Studio 8H at 30 Rock last month, Lazarus conceded the company is likely to lose money on this year's Olympics. With a rights fee of $1.18 billion, plus another $100 million or more in production costs, Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce projected NBCU will drop upward of $100 million. But Lazarus did say at the event that the financial picture is "much improved from the plan we inherited at the time of the [Comcast-NBCU] merger."
Whatever the total, the Games with its huge reach - London is projected to be among the five most-watched events in U.S. TV history, with north of 200 million viewers - will serve as a giant promotional device for upcoming NBCU initiatives, including the revitalized Today show and NBC primetime. It will also engender greater sampling for the NBC Sports Network, which will fill USA Network's former role as the home of U.S. team sports.
Moreover, Comcast has committed to the Olympics in 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020, paying some $4.38 billion for the pair of "quads." With continual technological advances that will undoubtedly open new platforms and rights fees around the same average for what General Electric paid for London, NBCU CEO Steve Burke said, "We think we're going to make money on these Games."
Time, technology and the economy will tell. In the interim, the London Olympics are upon us. Herewith a Games guide of sorts.
MOST-WATCHED TV EVENTS IN U.S. HISTORY
EXPECTING BIG RETURNS
Four years ago, the Beijing Games were what NBCU president of research Alan Wurtzel called "the perfect storm" for ratings. Not only did the time zone difference from China place a number of key events in East Coast primetime, but the U.S. team won more medals than any other group outside the Soviet-boycotted Los Angeles Games in 1984. Then, there was Michael Phelps' eight-gold medal-performance that was enabled in the second race by, as primetime host Bob Costas said, "one-hundredth of a second or less. If Michael Phelps takes silver, his teammates take silver in a relay race, then the whole storyline changes. And that undoubtedly diminishes the ratings."
While NBCU officials don't expect London to match Beijing with the Nielsens, they still expect strong numbers. John Miller, chief marketing officer of NBCU's television group, said in studies awareness for the Games is at 65%, but more importantly "the intent [to watch] is at a record 71%." NBC's Olympic Trials coverage averaged a 3.5 rating over 16 telecasts, the best since 1996, and 5.72 million viewers, up 41% from the lead-up to Beijing.
Add it all up, and Wurtzel expects the 2012 Olympics to be "huge," finishing as one of the top five "most-watched events in television, with north of 200 million viewers. So, come back and see me on August 14." No doubt many will.
RINGING IN PRIMETIME
With all of the Olympic action scheduled to be streamed digitally and the Peacock facing a tough time-zone comparison with Beijing - where some key events, including Michael Phelps' exploits in the pool, matched up well with U.S. primetime on the East Coast - the question is, how close can NBC come to matching its 2008 Games' performance in the daypart?
NBCU'S OLYMPIC SCORECARD
As part of NBCUl's 5,535 hours of coverage across all platforms, NBC, NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo and Telemundo, plus a trio of specialty channels, will present coverage of all 32 sports and 302 medal competitions, encompassing some 2,000 hours on the linear services. That's a far cry from the way the Games used to be presented - in 1996, NBC aired a total of 171 hours from Atlanta.
NBC: The Peacock is upping its Games ante to 272.5 hours, nearly 50 more than in Beijing. After Today, which will originate from London, daytime coverage will double to seven hours. In primetime, NBC will package the Olympic glamour sports.
NBC Sports Network: The national sports service will be the home to U.S. team sports with 292.5 hours planned, the most ever for an Olympic cable network. Basketball, soccer, volleyball, field hockey, equestrian, cycling, wrestling and water polo, will be on throughout the London day,.
Telemundo: "The U.S. home of the Olympic Games in Spanish," the broadcast network will present 173 hours from the 2012 event, showcasing boxing, swimming, basketball and soccer. For the first time, mun2 will offer a daily half-hour, behind-thescenes special.
MSNBC: Over 19 days, the news channel - which actually kicks off the Games with Great Britain-New Zealand women's soccer on July 25 - will air up to 18 medal rounds and 20 sports from badminton and basketball to soccer and wrestling. Most weekdays, MSNBC will air Olympic action from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. for a total of 155.5 hours overall.
Bravo: Returning to the Olympic stage for the first time since the Athens Games in 2004, the network will volley 56 hours of long-form tennis coverage from the All England Club from July 28-Aug. 3.
CNBC: For the fourth consecutive Summer Games, the financial channel will turn from the competition on Wall Street to that inside the square circle from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, plus live bouts on the weekends. There will be 73 hours of boxing coverage over 16 days.
As of the middle of last week, NBC Sports Group executive vice president of sales marketing Seth Winter said national Olympic ad sales were approaching a new plateau.
At NBC's press event two weeks ago, Winter said national ad sales, across NBC and the various cable networks and digital platforms had reached the $950 million mark, $100 million ahead of Beijing at a comparable point. "I don't want to jinx things, but we've made good progress since then," said Winter, who noted that NBCU has signed up more than 100 advertisers for the London Games. He said there was good representation across all categories, save for the hotel industry.
On the digital side, Winter put the total at between $60 million and $65 million - double Beijing's haul. He said NBCU has taken "a very conservative approach" because digital performance is "less predictable." Still, he sees great upside, noting that four years ago, NBCU hit its mobile target on the second day in Beijing. "We're ready to go right back into the market," he said.
That will also occur on the TV side, should the Nielsen household count rise.
"We protect our inventory should there be an audience shortfall," said Winter, who foresees things going the other way. He declined to divulge a ratings guarantee, but alluded to an expected delivery that is "comparable to other ratings from Games in the past that were held in like time zones and regions."
For their part, NBC-owned local stations are expected to generate $175 million in Olympic ad sales.
NBCU reports there has been an almost complete sign-up for its enhanced Olympics package, which gives distributors an array of advanced services, notably 1,000 video-on-demand assets; access to a 3D feed, in conjunction with Panasonic Corp. of North America, encompassing 242 hours across various sports; and a pair of dedicated channels covering the basketball and soccer competitions in London.