SBD/July 31, 2012/Olympics

NBC's Lazarus Defends Decision To Show Top Sports On Tape-Delay In Primetime

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Lazarus surpised London Games are rating ahead of Beijing from four years ago
NBC Sports Chair Mark Lazarus defended his network’s decision to show some marquee Olympic sports, like swimming and gymnastics, on tape delay in NBC’s primetime window. Addressing the topic for the first time since the London Games started, Lazarus told THE DAILY that the early TV ratings show that most Americans are comfortable with the way NBC develops stories around the games. “I think what we’ve proven is that the American viewing public likes the way we tell the story and wants to gather in front of the television with their friends and family -- even if they have the ability to watch it live either on television or digitally,” Lazarus said. “I inherently trust that decision is the right one and that people want to see these events.” Lazarus said that he has heard the complaints from Twitter, where people protesting NBC’s decision to tape delay certain events added “#NBCFail” to their tweets. But Lazarus said he trusts NBC execs and their years of Olympics experience with make programming decisions that are based on years of research. “As programmers, we are charged to manage the business. And this is a business,” Lazarus said. “It’s not everyone’s inalienable right to get whatever they want. We are charged with making smart decisions for our company, for our shareholders and to present the product the way we believe is best.” It is hard to argue with NBC’s TV ratings performance so far. NBC is averaging a 19.2 rating/35.8 million viewers in its primetime window through the Games’ first weekend. The 35.8 million viewership figure is the highest in Olympic history. Before the games, NBC Sports identified the finals of five events -- swimming, gymnastics, diving, beach volleyball and track & field -- that it will not show live on television, opting to hold until primetime. Nothing from the Olympics opening weekend has caused him to change his mind. “NBC has created a formula around story arcs,” Lazarus said. “The American population wants to get to know the athletes and follow their stories.”

TACKLING CRITICISM: NBC on Saturday streamed the men’s 400-meter IM race live where American Ryan Lochte won Gold and Michael Phelps finished fourth. It did not show the race on TV until primetime, leading to a flood of criticism on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Lazarus said he was pleased with the race's results online and on TV. More than 943,000 online streams were started during that race’s window. When the race was aired on NBC, hours after it originally happened, it pulled a huge 24 rating in that segment. “My guess is that those people who watched it online came and watched it again,” Lazarus said. NBC also received a lot of criticism for not showing the Opening Ceremony live. Lazarus said the network never planned to stream the Opening or Closing ceremonies live, saying that such an event would be too difficult online without proper commentary. “We don’t believe that a raw feed, which would be a host feed, without narration and broadcasting would be a good user experience in a big stadium with lots of camera cuts,” Lazarus said. “We think we created the best experience. Frankly, I think all of the noise about Queen Elizabeth and Paul McCartney on social media and in the digital world helped build excitement for our primetime show.” Pointing to his network’s decision to stream every event live online, Lazarus said NBC is doing a lot more experimenting in these Olympics than ever before, particularly online, where it is streaming every Olympics event live. “It’s a technological feat that’s never been tackled,” he said. “I’m very proud of our team who have been working their butts off to continue to try and improve the experience every minute of every day.”

SURPRISED BY THE RATINGS: Lazarus said he has been surprised by NBC’s TV ratings performance. “I am surprised that we are having a dialogue today about being in the range of Beijing and exceeding Beijing at this point,” he said. “It sure is a lot more fun than being behind. If we were down 10 percent from Beijing, we’d be saying that this is probably about what we expected. Even 15 percent.” A main reason for NBC's strong ratings performance is the net's decision to blow out its digital and VOD offerings. “We have believed from the beginning that a multi-platform approach to surrounding consumers with Olympic programming leading to a primetime on NBC would make people want to gather even if they knew the results,” Lazarus said. “We still have a ways to go. But that seems to be playing out quite well.”
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