London 2012: NBC Could Still Profit From Olympics, Says Spoilers Boost Ratings

Summer Olympics US Girls Gymnastics Win - H 2012
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Summer Olympics US Girls Gymnastics Win - H 2012

As ratings continue to justify NBC's Olympic investment -- viewership is up 13 percent over Beijing 2008 and on track to be among the top five television events of all time -- the network still is getting flak for delays, spoiled results and questionable edits.

It's also making more money than originally expected. NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus spoke with reporters Thursday morning and clarified the previous day's comments from NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke that the broadcast would "break even."

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“With ratings and sales increases, we will now be around break even -- no qualifiers,” said Lazarus, who added that there's still the possibility of a profitable scenario. "There's a small chance that we can make a little bit of money. We’ll know over the next couple weeks.”

The numbers Lazarus, joined by NBC research president Alan Wurtzel, were really eager to talk about were the ratings. As of Wednesday night, London has eclipsed Beijing's viewership on each of the first six days of competition.

"We don't necessarily expect it to continue every night," said Lazarus, "but the fact that we're in this ballpark and having this conversation is a very pleasant surprise."

Current ratings have the London Games on track to be one of the most-watched events in television history, and Lazarus said he's confident it will make the top five.

As for the perceived negatives, Lazarus emphasized the live coverage that NBCUniversal is offering across its properties including NBC Sports, Bravo and MSNBC. In the first five days of competition, two-thirds of the Olympic coverage has aired live -- with 158.5 hours, out of a total 274, airing in real time.

Echoing the sentiments of Olympics executive producer Jim Bell, Lazarus also accepts that the network's critics will continue to complain about broadcast delays and spoiled results, but they're not harming the returns. They might even be improving them.

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Speaking of a survey conducted Sunday, the day after Michael Phelps' delayed race drew NBC its first criticism, Wurtzel said 43 percent of those polled had heard about the results of Olympic events. "Those who heard said they were more likely to watch primetime coverage that night than those who hadn't," said Wurtzel. "67 percent who knew the results said they knew they were going to watch, versus 54 percent who did not."

Spoilers, however unavoidable, will not be as obvious as the Today promo spilling news of Missy Franklin's gold medal just shy of her tape-delayed race.

"We had an unfortunate incident where we didn't have a backup system to our checks and balances on when a promo might run," said Lazarus . "We've now put that back into place. That's a regretful moment, but we move on and apologize to the audience for that."

One thing they're not apologizing for is the edits to Tuesday's broadcast of the women's gymnastics team final. Critics have said the broadcast was altered to give a sense that the U.S. team's win wasn't a lock, omitting one of the Russian team's bigger missteps.

"We did show the Russian results," he said. "We did, in the interest of time, not show one of the floor exercises. It was our belief at producers' discretion that it was immaterial to the outcome. I think if you go back and watch it, you'd say our broadcast team and our production team did nothing to alter what our viewer would feel in terms of suspense."

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