NBC Sports Chief Says Olympics Advertisers "Happy" With Ratings; Another $30 Million Booked

Rio 2016 Olympic Games-Sam Dorman and Mike Hixon-United States-Men's Diving-Getty_H2016
Al Bello/Getty Images

With almost a week of Olympic coverage in the bag and a few discouraging viewership trends, NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus hopped on the phone with reporters Thursday afternoon to reaffirm his confidence in the performance and tout the company's "Total Audience Delivery" metric.

"Overall, our ratings are meeting expectations," he said. "The mix is just a little different. … We are so confident in our delivery, we've booked another $30 million in advertising since the start of the Games."

Add that $30 million to the massive $1.2 billion booked prior to the Games, which Lazarus described as the most "economically successful in history."

"Our advertisers are happy," he continued. "We have structured and managed our inventory throughout the games so they will get exactly what we promised them."

Going into Wednesday night, which saw a steep ratings drop after several nights of Michael Phelps-fueled interest, the 2016 Rio Summer Games were pulling an average 28.6 million viewers and 15.6 household rating. Overall audience trails the 2012 London Games by nearly 10 million, while the household rating is down by almost two points from the comparable period. The latter is particularly troubling, as it also falls short of the number guaranteed to advertisers.

"If there is a small shortfall, we put it into the Olympic Games," Lazarus noted of the deficit. "We will leave the Olympic Games with everyone getting what we promised them. … In the case of broadcast, it's down a little bit. But cable and streaming are up, and it mitigates that difference. That's what we're selling."

That, he insisted, is where Total Audience Delivery comes in. The number, which combines live broadcast, cable and streaming in primetime, has painted a more positive narrative for Rio. Monday and Tuesday nights are almost identical to the NBC-only ratings from London in 2012. 

"Everyone is talking about broadcast being down," added Lazarus. "We're averaging over a 15 rating. Nothing on television is doing that. And that's not an hour of scripted — that's three to four hours a night for 17 days."

There is no doubt that streaming is on the rise. Views topped 1 billion live minutes of streaming as of Wednesday night — a 232 percent increase from 2012, though London did not offer a live stream during primetime. Lazarus noted that they will take cues from that down the line. NBC, after all, has both the Summer and Winter Olympics through 2032. "We have rights to all of the platforms," he said. "We can alter our plans from Games to Games."

A common complaint with the Rio Olympics — with any Olympics, really — has been the lack of live coverage in primetime. Lazarus defended NBC Sports by explaining they have live viewership for anyone who wants it.

"We stream every event live," he said. "Every single thing that takes place in Rio is available live. Last night's show, from 8 to 11, we were live for beach volleyball and swimming and a piece of tape-delayed gymnastics after 10 o'clock. There's only so much you can put on."