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NBCU on pace to break $1.2B Olympic ad sales record for Tokyo Games

NBCUniversal Media LLC is on pace to break its Olympic ad sales record, with national ad sales for the Tokyo Games set to surpass the $1.2 billion record set by the 2016 event in Rio de Janeiro.

Buoyed by a host of first-time Olympic buyers, Comcast Corp.'s programming unit has already secured national advertising commitments of more than $1 billion. Dan Lovinger, executive vice president of ad sales, NBC Sports Group, said the total represented double-digit growth from this stage four years ago, ahead of the 2016 Summer Games.

NBCU is slated to air more than 7,000 hours of Olympic content across different linear and digital media properties from Japan, July 24-Aug. 24. These will be the first non-U.S. Summer Games to be broadcast live across the nation. NBCU's upcoming ad-supported streaming service Peacock launches this spring and will likely host some of the Olympic content.

With the rise of digital and streaming platforms, linear audiences have eroded, even for big events like the Olympics, and NBCU and its advertisers are using digital platforms to fill the gaps. Lovinger, speaking on a Dec. 10 conference call with reporters, said NBCU is offering a single audience guarantee across platforms, which enables advertisers to "toggle back and forth so that we can take advantage of spikes in viewership in any one place."

Comcast/NBCU, which holds multimedia rights in the U.S. through the 2032 Games, paid the International Olympic Committee some $1.41 billion in rights fees for the competition in Tokyo. That is up from $1.22 billion for the Rio Olympics.

Despite escalating rights fees, NBCU has been in the black with the Olympics since its coverage from London in 2012, driven by national advertising, local sales from its TV stations, distribution fees and other revenue sources. The company had operating profits of $258 million tied to the Rio Games.

More than half the marketers on board for coverage from Japan are new to the Olympics, and they represent the technology, restaurant, financial services, pharmaceutical and retail sectors. NBCU has sold ad packages ranging from $1 million to more than $100 million, Lovinger said. Inventory in opening and closing ceremonies, as well as prime-time features and other key sponsorship positions are highly sold, he said.

With Tokyo 13 hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast, many marquee events will take place during prime time, and NBCU expects to reach more than 200 million Americans. In addition to offering a mass audience in a live setting, NBCU's ad sales efforts have benefited from several other elements, including more targeted sales opportunities.

For the first time, NBCU included the Olympics within its upfront sales. During upfront negotiations, media companies look to sell schedules within their linear and digital properties ahead of the upcoming TV season. In addition to signing cross-platform pacts based upon viewers 2 years and up, the company also for the first time has been transacting across key demos: viewers aged 18 to 49 and 25 to 54. It is also using new research initiatives to inform marketers about the Olympics' performance against key metrics.

Ahead of the Tokyo Games, NBCU picked up business with some Japanese companies, including a local stocking company that is advertising with the Olympics and on TV for the first time, and expects to score more with local tourist boards.

Lovinger said NBCU has not yet engaged with any presidential candidates about potential Olympic buys. The Democratic National Convention will take place two weeks before NBCU's Olympics coverage, while the Republican National Convention is Aug. 24-27.