NBC's Bob Costas, shown with the U.S. women's gymnastics team,… (NBC )
Heading into the Summer Olympics the smart money had NBC bleeding lots of red ink and struggling to land a big audience in an era of jaded viewers watching cynical and expletive reality shows.
The smart money was wrong.
Instead, NBC executives will leave London smiling. At worst, NBC and its parent, Comcast Corp., will break even on the games and may even make a tiny profit. NBC averaged 31.1 million viewers for the 17 nights of coverage it aired and overall almost 220 million people watched some of the games.
That huge audience also became a platform for NBC to promote its fall shows and even get some sampling for a few of them. In addition, the games boosted its morning show "Today," which is struggling to put some distance between itself and ABC's "Good Morning America."
No, a big audience for the Olympics does not mean NBC will suddenly be the most popular network when the fall season starts. Just because 30 million people saw a promo for a show, that doesn't mean they'll all tune in like lap dogs when it debuts a month later.
But NBC needed to at least show it still has a pulse and the Olympics did that. For almost three weeks, the network got a reminder of what it is like to be watched. After years of bad ratings, the brass there gets to feel like a winner again. Hopefully that enthusiasm won't fade when the Olympic torch is put back in the closet.
If NBC's new shows are tanking in mid-October, there will be lots of stories about how the Olympics ended up being a bust. That won't be fair or accurate. It's not on the Olympics to save NBC. The Games and the ratings achieved gave NBC a chance to promote its new shows to America. If America skips them, that's the fault of the programming team, not the sports guys.
Comcast had expected to lose money on the Summer Olympics. That it didn't means it already gets a medal. It will also no doubt make it feel better about the $4.4 billion it agreed to shell out for the U.S. TV rights to the next four Olympic Games from 2014 to 2020.
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