Olympic Ratings Keep Slipping


After posting record-low ratings for its first week of Olympics coverage from Sydney, ratings on NBC, CNBC and MSNBC continued to fall.

Through last Wednesday's 13th day of coverage, NBC averaged a 14.5 Nielsen Media Research rating and 25 share, down 36 percent from the Atlanta games in 1996.

MSNBC averaged a 0.8 rating for its first week of coverage, and CNBC a posted a 0.6 average for its initial week. But ratings for MSNBC began to dip during its second weekend.

MSNBC's average 1.0 rating for its opening weekend of coverage fell to a 0.7 rating for the second one, while CNBC held steady at a 0.5 rating for both weekends.

MSNBC pulled a 0.8 rating last Monday, and dropped to a 0.6 rating on Tuesday. CNBC pulled a 0.7 rating last Monday, and a 0.6 rating last Tuesday.

NBC executives continued to boast that cable ratings for Olympics coverage have blown away numbers for the networks' regular news programming. Indeed, MSNBC's week-one performance quadrupled its 0.2 third-quarter average for shows that normally run in the Olympics slots, and CNBC topped its 0.4 third-quarter average by 50 percent.

But ratings for both MSNBC and CNBC are far short of the 1.21 average that Turner Network Television generated for its coverage of the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Leading into the Olympics, several top cable operators, including Comcast Corp., Cablevision Systems and Time Warner Cable waited until the last minute to agree to NBC Cable's Olympics package. As part of that deal, MSOs received three minutes of local avails per hour to sell on both MSNBC and CNBC.

The MSO signup delay hampered the local-sales effort, said Steve Houck, vice president of affiliate relations at top rep firm National Cable Communications.

"The biggest challenge was the clearance issues that came down to the wire in some cases," he noted.

Houck said ad sales remained strong, however, especially from the automotive sector.