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NBCU meets viewership guarantees, opens up more Olympic ad inventory

NBCUniversal Media LLC is opening up "a few million" in additional ad inventory for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics now that this year's competition has delivered solid viewership across different platforms.

With its prime-time performance remaining close to the delivery from the Sochi Games and other dayparts performing well, NBC Chairman of Broadcasting and Sports Mark Lazarus on a Feb. 13 press call from South Korea said NBCU had met unspecified advertiser guarantees through the first five days of the 2018 Winter Olympics and is now taking inventory that had been put aside for potential audience under-delivery and offering it to the market.

"Our ratings success has increased our capacity, in somewhat a way we weren’t expecting. So with that, we still have the ability to go back into the market and sell more, and we're in active discussions right now with advertisers to either expand or new advertisers to come in," Lazarus said.

When the Pyeongchang Games began Feb. 8, Dan Lovinger, executive of advertising sales at NBC Sports Group, announced that NBCU had reached its Olympic goal of exceeding $900 million in national ad sales across linear, cable and digital platforms, a Winter Games record. Lazarus said 90% of advertisers have secured schedules across the entire suite of products.

Asked if NBCU could push toward $1 billion in national ad sales with the additional inventory, Lazarus said the company will not hit that plateau because "there isn't that much capacity. We have a few million that we can sell for advertisers who either came in with smaller buys and want to buy up or the potential of new people who maybe were reticent to come in and now see the dominance that this product has in the media landscape. If you want to sell your product in these next two weeks, we're the window to the consumer."

The return to the market emanates from the Total Audience Delivery metric — melding viewers ages 2+ across broadcast, cable and digital viewing. Over the first five days of the Olympics through Feb. 12, Pyeongchang generated an average total audience of some 24 million viewers in prime time, down 6% from the 2014 event from Sochi, Russia. Joe Brown, senior vice president of research for NBC Sports Group, said on a rounded basis, NBC (US) is averaging about 22 million viewers in the daypart, with another 2 million between national cable network NBCSN (US) and the digital simulcasts of the actions on the two linear channels via NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app. During the 2014 Sochi Games, NBC was the only place viewers could watch the Olympics in prime time.

Part of NBCU's ad sales game plan reflected lower audience guarantees from the Sochi Games.

"We anticipated some drop off in [prime-time] audience from four years ago," said Lazarus, noting the 6% prime-time decline is only part of the picture. "Some of our other dayparts are over-delivering, and that helps get us closer to our guarantees, and our total consumption will be up."

Commenting on reports that some sponsors aren't spending as much on the games, Lazarus said "that's unfortunate for them." He said 60% of NBCU's Olympics advertisers are new.

With media habits continuing to evolve, Lazarus said digital consumption through five days had exceeded the entirety of the Sochi Games. As expected, usage on connected TVs has been strong, proving again that "TV continues to be the big screen," he said.

Brown said viewership has come at the expense of sleeping and streaming. He said a quarter of NBC Olympics' viewers indicate they're getting less sleep as they watch the games, but 60% said Olympic viewing was taking the place of some consumption of streaming services like those owned by Netflix Inc., Hulu LLC and Amazon.com Inc.

Whether NBC, bolstered by the Super Bowl and Olympics, could take a run at CBS' overall audience crowd was one of the big questions entering the 2017-18 TV season.

Now, with contributions from Pyeongchang and coverage of Super Bowl LII, NBC, citing data from Nielsen Holdings, said it had become the most-watched network through the first 20 weeks of the TV season, ended Feb. 11. NBC said this marks the first time it has ranked first with total viewers — a 9.57 million prime-time average versus 9.39 million for perennial leader CBS (US) — at any point during a TV season since it won the 2001-02 campaign.