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Comments by YACCS
Monday, February 20, 2006

Oh yeah, people aren't watching the Olympics

What time is Idol on?

Movers: NBC ads suffer amid Olympics rating war

NEW YORK: The U.S. television network NBC Universal may be forced to give advertisers free or discounted air time to make up for low viewership after its Olympic coverage twice failed to gain top ratings this week, according to some media buyers.

NBC sold about $900 million of ads for the games in Turin, aiming to dominate ratings as it had during the previous seven Winter Games. The company, a unit of General Electric, promised advertisers it would make up for low ratings with television time at other events - and media buyers, like Andy Pappalardo, said NBC's performance put it at risk of triggering the agreements.

The games drew 16.1 million viewers in the 8 p.m. time slot on Tuesday, compared with 26.3 million for the "American Idol" talent search series, on News Corp.'s Fox network. A day earlier, the Olympics lost to "Desperate Housewives," on Disney's ABC network. Fox will run five hours of "Idol" next week to compete against Olympic figure skating, one of the biggest ratings draws during the games.

"Primetime is underperforming," said Pappalardo, senior partner and media buyer for Mediaedge:cia, a communications company based in New York. "It's going to be tough for NBC next week."

The Turin games drew an average of 12.4 percent of U.S. households with televisions in the first seven days of the games, according to Nielsen Media Research. That's down from the 19.5 percent who watched during the same period at the 2002 event in Salt Lake City, Utah. The opening seven days at the Olympics in Nagano, Japan, in 1998 had a 16.4 rating.

Buyers like Pappalardo said NBC promised advertisers average ratings of 12 to 14 percent during this year's games. Pappalardo bought spots for the Olympics. He declined to say which advertisers he represented.

An absence of high-profile U.S. victories has pressured ratings. Michelle Kwan, a nine-time U.S. figure skating champion and five-time world title winner, quit the Games last week because of a severe groin strain. Bode Miller, last year's overall World Cup winner and a top U.S. skier, hasn't medaled in three of his five competitions.

The Olympics may still represent a bright spot for NBC. Ratings during the event have been on average about double what the network posts during regular-season prime-time hours.

Which means their ratings suck.

Atrios blames the human interest stories, but considering that NBC is running the games 24 hours a day across their networks, I think they're doing a good job of showing the events. The problem is that the 2002 World Cup US semifinal game got 7m viewers being shown in the daytime. The Olympics doubles that in prime time. Remember soccer is the fifth sport in the US, and the game aired at 7 AM live from Japan and was repeated later in the day.

Now, someone had posted that in comments to knock the World Cup, but that's backwards. The US team, which had some hype in 1998, failed badly, embarassingly so. The 2002 team labored in obscurity, until they won, and people realized that the US was the eight best team in the world, now 7th.

The NBC could only double that audience, and is beaten by high rated shows doesn't say much for the Olympics or the way they're shown. The fact is that there was little drama attached to these Olympics and stories like Shani Davis only came to light in a negative way. Bode Miller was more famous for his comments on booze than his skills on the slopes.

In short, there wasn't the weeks of competitions which ABC used to run before the Olympics, which also comes during sweeps month, which built interest and created heroes. Now, it's just, as an NBC profile said " a bunch of wammabe suburban gangstas", which isn't all that interesting to sell.

Here's a question: how did Chad Hedrick become the "golden boy" of the US Speedskating team while Shani Davis is the "angry loner"? You think that narrative plays well with many viewers?

And there is still considerable interest in the Olympics in the US. If you look at the BBC Sport page, you have the Olympic takeout, then cricket scores. The UK press was spending thousands of words on the effect the Africa Cup would have on Premiership sides. It wasn't talking about the curling team.

It's not a competition between the IOC and FIFA. FIFA is clearly the dominant non-political NGO on the planet. Their yearly meetings are treated like UN summits. Only in the US does this escape notice. Only because of US support has the Olympics been more than just an international ski meet. It is US ad money and the US networks which gave the Olympics the status of an international event, as the World Cup was banished to Spanish-language TV.

How bad was it?

In 1990, the year the Italian team blew away everyone to win the cup in Italy, the US sent a collegiate team to play.

Which is about the same as sending a Texas high school team to play in the Rose Bowl.

In 1986, I remember watching the hand of God game on UHF in Spanish.

But interest in soccer grew after the US held the World Cup in 1994. Everyone thought that the MSL would fold soon after, but has only grown and provides the bulk of the US internationals.

The turning point was 1998. A US team with high hopes embarassed themselves in three straigh games. People then began to take soccer seriously because the US team would be competative and would have to do better.

But remember, at the same time, the Olympics was hit with both the 1996 Olympics, which both expensive and plagued with a terrorism attack, and the scandal surrounding the 2002 Winter Olympics as interest in soccer in the US exploded.

But I think staggering the Olympics didn't help matters either. Before they staggered the games, you had Olympic years and World Cup years. The summer Olympics built on the Winter Olympics and people could spend a year rooting for their country in a range of sports and then their football heroes two years later.

Now, the Winter Olympics share a year with the World Cup and are the worse for it. Even in Italy, news of their internation side can blow the Olympics away.

I think to some degree that the IOC thought they were top dog and now general indifference is greeting the Winter Games as people are waiting for June and the World Cup.

Now, I know this seems counterinutative to most Americans, raised on the idea of the Olympics being the penultimate sporting event, but to most of the world, the World Cup is the greatest thing on the planet, where victories can shut whole countries down for a day.

Part of the problem is that because of that lack of narrative interest, people are not going to
watch anonymous athletes over Idol or Desperate Housewives or any show they like. It is no longer event viewing.

posted by Steve @ 9:03:00 AM

9:03:00 AM

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