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Volume 26 No. 22
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Despite Lower Olympic Ratings, NBC Hits Guarantees, Turns A Profit

NBC "started strong in the ratings" for the Pyeongchang Games, but "faded in the homestretch in part, executives believe, because more people became absorbed in the news" following the Parkland high school shooting, according to David Bauder of the AP. NBCU will still "turn a profit" on the Games and it will "hit the ratings guarantees it promised to advertisers, an important financial barometer." While the ratings are down from Sochi, streaming services have "changed viewing behavior" since '14. Telecasts drawing bigger audiences than four years ago are "rare." NBC during the Games "routinely had more viewers than ABC, CBS and Fox combined" in primetime. NBC Broadcasting & Sports Chair Mark Lazarus said, "We were a little surprised that it started out as strong as it did. It will end up about where we thought it would." Bauder noted NBC's decision to broadcast its Olympic show live across the country "turned out to be well-suited" to the 14-hour time difference in Pyeongchang. The "late-night show on the East Coast ... was filled with live events," which led to a jump in ratings for that window. NBC also "learned to use NBCSN to [complement] NBC" (AP, 2/25). CNN's Brian Lowry wrote NBC's ratings performance shows that "even in a fragmented age, broadcasters can still assemble massive audiences and create national conversations" around big events. NBC in its daily releases tried to combat the decreased ratings from Sochi by "pointing out that its results represent the 'most dominant' night in Olympic history." Lowry: "NBC's point is that ratings for the Games need to be viewed in the context of the gravity -- and abundance of options -- eroding at broadcast viewing, reinforcing the wisdom of its parent Comcast anteing up for future rights" (CNN.com, 2/23). In Dallas, Barry Horn noted it is worth mentioning that NBC "won every primetime night in all 56 major markets since the start of the Games" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 2/24).

LIVE AFTER DARK: SI.com's Richard Deitsch notes the live broadcast of the U.S.-Canada women's hockey Gold Medal game on NBCSN "drew a total audience delivery of 3.7 million viewers." The 2.9 million viewers on NBCSN itself was the largest late night audience ever for any network. The U.S.-Sweden men's curling Gold Medal match drew 1.58 million viewers on NBCSN and 78,000 live streams from 1:00-4:00am ET, the "second-largest overnight viewership for the network" (SI.com, 2/25). The 2.9 million viewers for U.S.-Canada was down from 4.9 million for the same Gold Medal game matchup in Sochi, though that aired on NBC at 12:00pm ET (N.Y. TIMES, 2/26). Meanwhile, on Long Island, Neil Best wrote the number of viewers for U.S.-Sweden is a "remarkable figure given the hour, the sport and the channel." NBC covered the curling match "with the trappings of an upset worthy of the moniker 'Miracurl on Ice.'" There were "cutaways to the celebration at the Duluth Curling Club, coverage of the national anthem ceremony and an in-studio group interview that ended with the quintet singing karaoke to an old Journey song" (NEWSDAY.com, 2/24). In Boston, Tara Sullivan noted Team USA's "greatest Olympic triumph ... happened in the wee hours of an East Coast morning" with the women's hockey Gold, while the women's figure skating "nightmare happened smack in the middle of prime time." Sullivan: "When the best showing happens while no one is awake, when the worst showing is there for everyone to see, what is an American audience to do?" (BOSTONGLOBE.com, 2/24).

DELIVERING A TERRIFIC JOB: In Tampa, Tom Jones gives NBC an "A for its coverage." After overcoming a "shaky start with some missteps in the opening ceremony and pretty much ignoring the creepy past of snowboarder Shaun White ... most everything else after that was outstanding." Primetime host Mike Tirico "was solid and is expected to settle into that role as Olympic host for the next decade." Jones: "Because of its meticulous planning and near flawless execution, NBC's performance deserves a gold medal" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 2/26). SLATE's Josh Levin wrote his "favorite four minutes of the games ... came on Tuesday night, during NBC's broadcast of the women's downhill." NBC began with a "close-up of Lindsey Vonn in the starting gate" and announcers Dan Hicks and Bode Miller after a pre-packaged video segment "laid out, making way for the sound of Vonn's deep breaths and her team's exhortations." It was an "incredible piece of broadcasting, a master class in using video, natural sound, and narration to build anticipation" (SLATE.com, 2/24).

LEARNING FROM THE PAST: VOX' Todd VanDerWerff wrote NBC's coverage was "a lot better than it's been in the past." The net "still made silly decisions here and there," but it "usually followed up that moment with a smarter decision, which kept whole evenings of programming from sliding off a cliff into mawkish, soft-focus platitudes." Additionally, the competitions "moved back toward center stage." If viewers were not "interested in the events NBC chose to highlight, it had far more options for viewership on a variety of channels and platforms." VanDerWerff: "The 2018 Olympics give me hope that NBC is finally addressing one of its most persistent criticisms. The network still has a long way to go, and it has to stop assuming that the best way to tell human stories at the games is via packaged profiles straight out of 'Dateline,' rather than letting those human stories unfold in the midst of the competition itself. But maybe the network is moving in the right direction at long last" (VOX.com, 2/25).