Olympic Revival a Surprise Even for NBCU


Talk about an Olympic comeback.

After staring at a sea of red ink ahead of the 2012
London Olympics, improved audience deliveries across
NBCUniversal’s myriad platforms and increased advertising
sales have the company’s officials eyeing at least a
break-even level for the Summer Games.

With rights fees at $1.18 billion and at least another
$100 million more for production costs, analysts predicted
a deficit, and NBCU officials said before the
Games the event would not produce a profit.

At the time of the Comcast/NBCUniversal merger
in January 2011, internal estimates called for a London
loss of about $200 million. NBCU CEO Steve Burke, on
a second-quarter earnings call with analysts on Aug. 1,
said the programmer believed the 2008 Beijing Games
represented a “high water mark” for Olympic ratings
and modeled its ratings projections for this year on the
2004 Athens Games, the last time the quadrennium was
held in Europe and fewer events were broadcast live.

But with ad sales $100 million ahead of forecasts entering
the Games and London ratings greatly exceeding
expectations, Burke said the 2012 Games were heading
toward breaking even.

NBC Sports Group president Mark Lazarus, on a conference
call from London with reporters the following
day, said the company was “surprised” by the ratings
performance, which through the middle of last week
had surpassed Beijing in all dayparts on all linear networks
— NBC, NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC
and Bravo — and digital platforms. He was more emphatic
about the Games’ fiscal side.

“With ratings and sales increases, we have made significant incremental money that will now be around
break-even — no qualifiers,” he said. Asked later on the
call whether NBCU could finish in the black if the robust
ratings continue, Lazarus replied: “Yes. We think
there’s a small chance that we could make a little bit
of money. We’ll know over the next couple of weeks.”

Lazarus said NBCU, which had held back Olympic inventory
to guard against potential make-goods if ratings
didn’t measure up, went back into the advertising
marketplace on July 30 with more to sell.