NBC's brass addresses Olympic criticisms and gold medal ratings
NBC has received criticism across media platforms for its Olympic coverage
Viewers are angry about tape-delays, but NBC still has record primetime viewers
NBC chairman Mark Lazarus addresses the soaring ratings, the Rio Games, more
LONDON -- The negative headlines have come faster than Usain Bolt, from The Financial Times (NBC OLYMPICS COVERAGE DRAWS FIRE) to the Los Angeles Times (OLYMPIC FANS UNHAPPY WITH NBC FIND A WAY TO ACCESS BBC) to the New York Post (CUT-AWAYS RUIN NBC'S COVERAGE). Even the British have weighed in. The Daily Telegraph declared NBC's coverage "a damning indictment of an outdated monopoly" while The Guardian cheekily noted NBC was producing "the last great buggy-whip Olympics."
Those inside NBC's 75,000-square-foot compound at the International Broadcasting Center, where the network's nearly 2,800 employees work in cramped offices on hallways named after iconic British streets such as Savile Row and Abbey Road, are well aware of the endless chatter about the television coverage and the frustrations many Americans have with NBC's time-shifting strategy to protect its primetime show. But there is work to be done with a final weekend ahead and the staff is committed to the cause, including many in their 20s working 18-hour days.
NBC's promise to stream all the sports live from the London Games did not prevent criticism of its coverage. In fact, quite the opposite happened. As the New York Times wrote, Twitter has turned into a "fiery digital soapbox against NBC," with resentments spilling out in 140-character bursts over tape delays and problems viewing the live streams. It also produced a now-famous (or infamous) hashtag -- #NBCFail. Thanks to social media, everyone can be Roger Ebert, even if few can write like him. It is also true that those who have enjoyed NBC's coverage -- and there are millions and millions -- are unlikely to hop on Twitter simply to give the coverage props.
The network has also found itself compared to the host country broadcaster. The BBC has performed well under a huge spotlight; the 24 live online feeds have received rave reviews from critics and consumers. But the BBC is by no means perfect. The level of on-air cheerleading for British athletes would make China's CCTV blush, and it makes you think Homer was British rather than Greek. Of course, there is a fundamental difference in the entities. NBC paid nearly $1.2 billion for the rights to show the Olympics, and must get its revenue from advertising. The BBC receives most of its funding from the British public through a $225 license fee that is levied on TV-owning households. It paid $100 million for these Games.
But NBC has a major success story to tell with their historic television ratings. The network has averaged more than 30 million viewers for eight of the first 12 nights of the Olympics, and the average viewership for NBC's primetime coverage has surpassed Beijing on 12 of the first 13 nights of the Games. As of August 10, the London Olympics has averaged 32.6 million viewers in primetime and a household rating of 18.3, making it the most-watched and highest-rated non-U.S. Summer Olympics since the Montreal Olympics in 1976. The 13-day average primetime viewership of 32.6 million viewers is 3.6 million more viewers than the first 13 nights from Beijing (29.0 million) and 6.6 million more than the first 13 nights from Athens (26.0 million). These are the kind of numbers that get television executives a third home in Vail.
The success has carried to NBC's online offerings as well. As of August 9, NBC's Olympics website had received 1.5 billion page views, up from 1.2 billion at this time in Beijing, and the website has streamed 91.4 million streams, up from 75.5 in Beijing. The demographics of young people watching have soared, which no doubt excites IOC members as much as a five-star dinner. Viewership for teens between 12-17 was up 29 percent over Beijing as of August 3, according to NBC, which blasted out press releases about how they were pummeling those kids from Glee.
After passing the 200 million total viewers mark, the London Olympics has become one of the five most-watched events of alltime. When the Games conclude on Sunday night, the event will be either the most-watched in history or second most-watched to the Beijing Games. Once thought to be a money loser, NBC now expects to make a small profit on these Games.
In a 40-minute interview with SI.com at NBC's London offices, NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus addressed multiple topics about his coverage including ratings success, charges of manipulating narratives, a clumsy performance during Opening Ceremonies and why NBC tape-delays high profile events to air in primetime later that night. On the latter topic, which is of prominent importance to Olympic viewers, SI.com asked Lazarus if he would consider moderating NBC's strategy for the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro when a high-profile event occurred on the weekend. For example, why not show the men's 100 meters (run last Sunday afternoon) on one of NBC's networks, and still replay it in primetime later that night with all of the network's trimmings?