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Profit possible on Olympics, says NBC Sports head Lazarus

August 02, 2012|By Joe Flint
  • NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus is pleased with Olympic results.
NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus is pleased with Olympic results. (Getty Images )

NBC has gone from expecting to lose $200 million on the Summer Olympics in London to perhaps breaking even to maybe making a profit on the Games.

"We think there is a small chance we could make a little bit of money," NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus said Thursday. "We’ll know over next couple of weeks."

That would be a stunning turnaround for NBC and its parent company Comcast, both of which have been warning investors and analysts for almost two years that the London Games would likely end in red ink.

With the ratings for the Games outperforming even the most optimistic expectations, NBC does not have to worry about providing additional commercials to advertisers if it under-delivers on viewers. Commercials being sold since the Games started are going for as much as $850,000 per 30-second spot -- substantially more than NBC was getting for ads prior to the start of the Games.

NBC's possible profits will do little to appease critics of the network's coverage of the Games. While all the events are being streamed live on the Internet, many would prefer NBC broadcast live on TV as well, instead of holding high-profile competitions for prime time, when the results of events may already be hours old. The network does that because that is when the biggest audience is available and advertisers are paying the highest rates.

NBC's Lazarus defended the network's coverage.

"Everyone’s got the right to have their point of view," Lazarus said of those criticizing how NBC is presenting the Olympics on TV and on the Web.  However, "it is a very loud minority and a silent majority has been with us for six days."

Lazarus added that the tape delay also allows the network to build out the events with background on the athletes, which can attract more than just a hard-core fan.

"The Olympics are so much more than a sporting event," he said, adding that the proof is in the size of the audience, which is well over 30 million a night and outperforming the 2008 Beijing Games by about 15%.

With regards to its streaming efforts, Alan Wurtzel, NBC's head of research, said 64 million video streams have been delivered, a 182% increase over Beijing.

The Olympics, Wurtzel said, are an "opportunity for us to see the future of media."

The  majority of online viewership comes from computers. Wurtzel said about 60% of the streaming has been from computers and the rest has been mobile and tablet devices. The Games are also creating new users. Wurtzel said 75% of those watching live streaming on tablets are doing so for the first time. For mobile phones, that number is 86%.

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