SBD/Issue 93/Sports Media

Vancouver Games Could Help NBC Move On After Messy Conan Spat

A "solid Olympics performance" in Vancouver next month "could go a long way toward rehabilitating" NBC, according to David Bauder of the AP. The "past few weeks of bad publicity haven't helped" with the dispute between the NBC and former "Tonight Show" host Conan O'Brien, and the network's "struggling prime-time ratings hinder its abilities to promote" the Vancouver Games. N.Y.-based Carat USA analyst Shari Anne Brill: "The squabbling over late night has really overshadowed anticipation for the games." Chicago-based Campbell & Mithune analyst John Rash said that NBC's primetime troubles "hurt its ability to get people excited about the games and emboldened rival networks to program more aggressively against the Games." But TNS Media Intelligence Senior VP/Research John Swallen "cautioned against connecting NBC's other problems with interest in the Olympics." Swallen: "Ultimately, it's the competition and the personalities of the athletes involved in the competition that makes the difference between a ratings bonanza and a ratings disaster. And you can't predict that until the games unfold." Bauder wrote NBC "has work to do this February," as the network "must remind viewers that Jay Leno is returning to 'Tonight' and demonstrate it is back with new programming at 10 p.m., including Jerry Seinfeld's new reality series, 'The Marriage Ref.'" NBC said that it will take "no financial shortcuts in its Olympics coverage that would cheat viewers," rather the network is "saving money with other efficiencies." NBC Sports & Olympics VP/Communications Chris McCloskey noted that the network "will have 600 fewer employees in Vancouver than it did in Turin" (AP, 1/26).

CLEANSING PERIOD: NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chair Jeff Gaspin yesterday said that he "hopes the two weeks of Winter Olympics coverage beginning Feb. 12 will be a 'cleansing moment' ... that will allow the network to move past being the butt of jokes" for the late-night situation. Gaspin admitted that NBC is "now in the process of rebuilding many key relationships in the creative community after the turmoil of the Leno decision and other moves." Gaspin: "You want the (creative) community to want you to succeed" (DAILY VARIETY, 1/27). While GE has said that NBC expects to lose $250M on the Vancouver Games, Gaspin contends that he is "glad the network has the event, particularly now." Gaspin: "I look at it as a cleansing moment for NBC to reset its schedule. We'll come out of the Olympics with a new 10 p.m. and a new late night. We have the Olympics as a platform to promote these changes. We have between now and March 1 to re-launch our schedule. It's great timing for us. Whether that's worth $250[M] -- it is for me, it is for NBC." Gaspin added, "I think there's great value to the Olympics. I would love to see us a part of the process but it has to be for the right economics" (, 1/26).

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