LOS ANGELES NBC Universal has sold more than $900 million in advertising time for the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing, booking nearly 90 percent of its inventory three weeks ahead of the opening ceremony, the company said on Monday.
Aiming to sell $1 billion in Olympic commercial time overall, General Electric Co.-owned (GE.N) NBC Universal plans to air a record 3,600 hours of coverage between August 8 and August 24 across its broadcast, cable TV and online outlets.
In addition to prime-time broadcasts on the flagship NBC network, coverage of the Games will air on Spanish-language network Telemundo, cable channels USA, MSNBC, CNBC and Oxygen, and various websites. Live audio-video streaming of the Games over the Internet will account for about 2,200 hours of NBC Universal's overall coverage.
"I think the country is really ready for this," NBC Universal Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol told a gathering of TV writers, speaking via satellite from Beijing. "It isn't exactly a joyful time; $4 gasoline, people who can't afford vacations; wild prices on food. Audiences are really looking for something to cheer."
Advertisers appear to be betting that viewers will flock to the Beijing Games in large numbers, extending a marketing trend that increasingly favors marquee events like the Olympics, the Super Bowl and Wimbledon over regularly scheduled television.
Because audiences tend to tune in for big-event sports in real time, rather than recording them to watch at their leisure, such broadcasts have grown all the more valuable to advertisers.
Despite forecasts that the U.S. economic slowdown could pinch marketing budgets, advertisers in categories like consumer electronics, movies and retail continue to show strong demand for the Olympics, NBC said.
For NBC and its advertisers, the biggest change in this year's coverage is a sharp increase in the number of events to be carried live in the United States during prime time, with fewer of the tape delays typically required in beaming distant Olympic competition to U.S. viewers.
In order to show popular events like swimming and gymnastics as they unfold live, NBC prevailed on the International Olympic Committee to start competitions earlier in the day in Beijing.
Previously, U.S. audiences complained that Olympic Games in places like Sydney, Australia, lost much of their drama because the outcome of competition became widely known before events had a chance to air, via tape delay, in prime time.
"I told (the IOC) that it would be almost impossible for an American network bidding on the Games in the future -- if they were going to be in the Far East -- for it not to be able to have it live," he said.
NBC, which paid $894 million for exclusive U.S. rights to the Beijing Games, will broadcast live events for about half of its prime-time coverage each evening on the U.S. East Coast. Prime-time events will still run in tape delay for the West Coast.
Ebersol also addressed questions about NBC's plans should sweeping protests or violence break out during the Games, insisting that bona fide news developments would be covered as warranted.
"We're there with a great team to cover those events. But we also have NBC News," he said. "If this becomes a news story or series of news stories, other than sports, we are ready to cover them. We are not going to cavalierly blow out sporting events to show news. But if it's really news, we're going to cover it."
(Editing by Carol Bishopric)