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NBC Olympic ad sales for 2018 Winter Games outpacing Sochi levels

Armed with a new audience guarantee encompassing linear and digital viewing, plus a new deal with Snap Inc., NBCUniversal Media LLC's NBC Sports is pushing cross-platform ad sales for the 2018 Winter Olympics from PyeongChang, South Korea.

The ad sales efforts thus far have NBC Sports pacing ahead of where it was at this point with the 2014 Winter Games from Sochi, Russia, Dan Lovinger, executive vice president of advertising sales at NBC Sports Group, told reporters on a March 29 conference call, which followed an Olympic upfront presentation to advertisers earlier in the day.

With digital viewing continuing to increase, NBC Sports is moving away from TV household ratings guarantees. It is instead using Total Audience Delivery, a metric melding viewing on broadcast, cable and streaming outlets, which is based on viewers age 2 and older.

With the switch to total viewers, Lovinger said "we're better to able [to] pivot from linear to digital and back again, depending on where we see the viewership spikes coming from on a day-to-day or event-to-event basis."

NBC Sports' expansive coverage of the 2016 Summer Games from Rio de Janeiro generated 191 billion minutes of viewing, 3.5 billion of which emanated from digital platforms, according to Lovinger. Yet it saw significant declines for the opening and closing ceremonies. NBC (US) ultimately averaged 25.4 million viewers with a 14.4 rating across 17 nights of coverage, down from 31.1 million viewers and a 17.5 rating from the 2012 Olympics, resulting in make-goods to advertisers for under-delivery.

The 2016 quadrennial marked the first games in U.S. history when there were live prime-time presentations on cable networks, in addition to the primary broadcast channel. The content on NBC was also streamed simultaneously for the first time. NBC Olympics said Total Audience Delivery provided a 7% lift to 27.5 million viewers, the second-highest average audience for any nondomestic Summer Games, but still lagging the mark for the action from London.

NBC has also said it will air all of its Olympic coverage live across U.S. time zones, syncing viewing on its broadcast, cable and digital platforms, and ending the broadcast network’s long-standing practice of tape-delayed presentations to the Mountain and Pacific time zones. Given the 13-hour differential from PyeongChang, key events like figure skating and skiing will premiere in prime time on the East Coast.

Although NBC's prime-time Olympics rating will continue to be essential, "the days of it being the sole metric are absolutely over," said Lovinger.

With the Sochi Games for which it paid $775 million in rights fees, NBC Sports generated almost $1.1 billion in ad sales between its broadcast network and cable channels, and registered an operating profit. For PyeongChang, the rights allocation is higher at $998 million.

Lovinger said NBC Sports' Olympic advertising portfolio extends to International Olympic Committee and United States Olympic Committee sponsors, as well as advertisers that are new to the games. He declined to specify a sell-through level on the call, but noted "we are pacing a little bit ahead of Sochi" and are "very encouraged."

Part of that enthusiasm stems from the expanded Snapchat deal. As part of the new agreement with Snapchat, NBC Sports in addition to selling ad time on Snapchat stories and on the Olympic Discover channel, in a first, will be able to market Snapchat lenses and geo filters.

It will also sell ads on user stories from those identifying themselves as Olympic fans, of which there were 34 million during Rio, according to Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics.

This Snapchat deal should help NBC bring in "close to eight figures, if not eight figures" in social ad revenue, said Lovinger.

NBC's PyeongChang prime-time coverage begins on Feb. 8, shortly after Super Bowl LII, also on NBC.

"If they can afford it, the one-two combination of the Super Bowl and four days later the Olympics is pretty unbeatable," Lovinger said.

Depending on clients' needs and budgets, Lovinger said NBC Sports is selling inventory "together and separately" across 2018's three big sporting events, which also includes Telemundo (US)'s Spanish-language coverage of the 2018 World Cup from Russia.