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NBC: Programs seeing big boost from Games

Posted: Friday August 27, 2004 1:27AM; Updated: Friday August 27, 2004 4:10AM
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NEW YORK (AP) -- Besides being a ratings success on its own, NBC claimed Thursday the Olympics have had a "halo effect" of boosting viewership for its cable networks and programs -- sometimes in startling numbers. (Highlights)

CNBC, MSNBC, USA and Bravo saw a total of 62 million people tune in at some point during the first 11 days of the Olympics, compared to the 38 million viewers for the same 11 days a month earlier, according to Nielsen Media Research.

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CNBC has averaged 602,000 viewers a night for its boxing coverage, shown between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. The audience for the business-oriented network's regular programming a month earlier in those hours was nearly invisible: an average of 34,000 people.

"Our plan worked," said Randy Falco, president of the NBC Universal Television Group. "The strategy coming into the games was to use all of our platforms to aggregate the largest possible audience and then to promote across all platforms."

One fear of NBC executives was that all the Olympic coverage on cable might lessen the appetite for NBC's prime-time telecast, but that proved not to be the case.

"We're in the viewership business -- that's what we sell -- and we succeeded in increasing our viewership across the platforms," Falco said.

NBC, which had estimated a profit of $50 million before the Games, now says it will make between $60 million and $70 million. The high ratings enabled the network to sell more commercial time over the past week.

MSNBC and CNBC have both been unsuccessful in attracting viewers over the past few years.

Similar boosts from Olympics coverage in Sydney and Salt Lake City proved to be short-lived.

With CNBC in particular, the gulf between boxing- and business-obsessed audiences would seem to be wide. But during boxing, it has relentlessly promoted its new prime-time talk show with John McEnroe, and is hoping at least some of the new viewers check it out.

Having the Olympics may also help persuade cable system operators to carry Bravo when they've resisted in the past, NBC said.

On MSNBC, "The Abrams Report" had 21 percent more viewers during the first week of the Olympics than it had the previous week, Nielsen said. "Hardball" has benefited, too.

USA's "Monk," which was also promoted heavily during the games, saw its summer finale ratings increase by 21 percent over last year, Nielsen said.

News programs also basked in the glow: "Nightly News" had its widest lead in viewers over ABC's "World News Tonight" in a year and the "Today" show, with hosts Katie Couric and Matt Lauer in Athens, had its largest lead over "Good Morning America" in four years.

NBC also said ratings for its late local news programs were up in 13 of the 14 stations owned by the network.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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