NEW YORK – Television viewers are so excited about the Olympics that NBC’s corporate owners said Wednesday they now expect to break even on the London Games after once predicting they’d take a $200 million loss.
Through five days of events, ratings are 30 percent higher than what NBC had privately predicted, NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said. That means NBC can sell more commercial time than anticipated and charge higher prices for them.
Despite social media complaints about NBC’s policy of filling its prime-time with events taped earlier in the day, it hasn’t dissuaded television viewers. There are even indications that it may have helped: 38.7 million people tuned in Tuesday night, when Americans could have easily learned by dinnertime that the country’s women’s gymnastics team won a gold medal that day and swimmer Michael Phelps set a record for career medals earned. On Monday, when the men’s gymnastics team finished without medals, 31.6 million people watched.
We are way ahead of where we thought we’d be, Burke said.
Burke attributed the strong showing to NBC and parent company Comcast Corp.’s heavy promotion of the games ahead of time. Experts suggested social media played a big role in drumming up interest in the Olympics, just as it has in the past couple of years for big TV events like the Super Bowl, Grammy Awards and the Oscars. Fans converse through Facebook and Twitter and it drives people to the television set, said Brad Adgate, an analyst for Horizon Media.
The popularity of social media has to be one of the drivers, Adgate said. Everything else is pretty much the same.
NBC had drawn on past Olympics ratings performance – in the era before social media – in predicting that ratings for London would be on a par with the 2004 Athens games and 20 percent lower than the Beijng summer games in 2008. Many Beijing events were carried live in U.S. prime-time, but because of the time factor, NBC knew it could not have as much fresh material from London. Instead, prime-time ratings for London are up 10 percent from the Beijing games, the Nielsen company said.