NBC's first week of Olympic Games coverage got off to a rocky start, with ratings on the broadcast network and cable siblings MSNBC and CNBC down sharply from previous years.
MSNBC and CNBC both posted big increases over their regular programming. But compared to the 1998 Winter Olympics on Turner Network Television, ratings in key adult demographic categories dropped by 39 percent to 80 percent on CNBC. MSNBC also posted double-digit decreases from TNT's numbers, according to Nielsen Media Research data provided toMultichannel News.
CNBC posted a 0.5 rating from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. during its first weekend of coverage from Sydney, up 150 percent from its average third-quarter ratings. But the numbers fell 58 percent from the 1.21 rating TNT averaged for the Nagano Winter Games, and its demographic performance included a 46 percent drop for men 18-to-49, and an 80 percent decline among women 18-to-34.
MSNBC averaged a 1.0 rating from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. on its opening weekend, up 150 percent from the 0.4 rating it averaged during the third quarter.
But it was down sharply from the 1.21 average that TNT pulled in 1998. MSNBC's demos dropped 17 percent from the 0.54 rating TNT pulled for men 18-to-49 and were off 19 percent from the 0.48 TNT averaged from women 18-to-49.
Through its first six days of coverage, NBC averaged a 14.6 rating and 25 share, down 36 percent from its coverage of the Atlanta Summer Olympics in 1996.
NBC Olympics co-chairman Dennis Swanson said the company had exceeded its projected ratings for cable, though he didn't know what that projection was.
But he acknowledged the network hadn't met ratings expectations for its combined broadcast and cable coverage, and said NBC would provide advertisers with additional advertising inventory to make up for the shortfall.
"The advertisers that would be involved with NBC in totality will be dealt with in a fair and equitable manner," Swanson said.
Since TNT traditionally carries sports programming such as National Basketball Association games, that network would be expected to post higher ratings for Olympics coverage than the NBC Cable networks, Swanson noted.
Some cable operators last week said they still felt stung by the rates they had to pay for Olympics coverage on MSNBC and CNBC.
"That was a high price tag they put on it," said Mark Maseheimer, assistant general manager at Pencor Services, a Pennsylvania-based small cable operator. "We felt it was something we should do," he added, noting that his satellite competitors were offering the full Olympics package.
In addition to rate hikes for CNBC and MSNBC, NBC Cable asked cable operators to pay surcharges of up to $1.68 per subscriber per year through 2008, sources said.
NBC said cable systems representing only 2 percent of CNBC and MSNBC households didn't go for the Olympics package, and opted for CNBC and MSNBC reruns.
Three Service Electric Cable TV Inc. systems in Pennsylvania and New Jersey were among those that didn't go for the deal.
Bill Brayford, vice president of the systems, said the company received about one dozen calls early in the week from subscribers complaining about not receiving the Olympics.
He said the subscribers called the company after reading a crawl that MSNBC and CNBC ran on the bottom of the screen on systems that didn't agree to the packages. It read: "NBC wants all viewers to see the Olympics. Most U.S. service providers elected to carry our Olympic coverage. Yours did not. We apologize for any inconvenience."
Linda Moss contributed to this report.