Posted by Dale Buss on January 21, 2010 03:26 PM
No one has even seen a glimpse of the Olympic torch, yet NBC is already waving a financial white flag over next month's 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The next question is: Will these Games hurt NBC’s brand as well as its pocketbook?
The slumping network recently agreed to concede $45 million to Conan O’Brien over the Tonight Show debacle. Now, as if it couldn't get any worse, NBC Universal Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol explained to the New York Times how the network ended up way overbidding for the global rights to telecast the events in Vancouver.
“Our luck had been good,” Ebersol said, in regard to NBC's previous Olympic telecasts when, in 2003, NBC bid about $2 billion for the rights to the Vancouver games and to the 2012 Summer Olympics scheduled for London. “But we didn’t foresee what would happen to the economy in 2008. The rabbit’s foot that was mine, or ours, got lost.”
Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of NBC parent General Electric (until its pending sale of the network to Comcast), already has admitted that NBC will lose $200 million airing the Vancouver games.
But network brass has not publically addressed what NBC’s continued embrace of the Olympics franchise would do to the network’s already embattled brand.
At a time when many beleaguered advertisers are shunning even the Super Bowl as a worthy vehicle, NBC must accept that the Winter Olympics are never as big a television draw as the Summer Olympics in any Olympiad. Also, the Vancouver Games will be the first since a record 4.7 billion people watched some portion of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, which in part served as a global coming-of-age celebration for China.
NBC has already aired hundreds of promos of its Vancouver coverage and will be showing hundreds more. But so far there doesn’t seem to be much buzz about standout athletes or these Games overall.
Once the Super Bowl is over on February 7, enthusiasm for the Olympics may rise again. Or maybe it won’t. Given NBC’s recent luck, we know what the odds are.