Sochi: NBC Execs Talk Bob Costas, Live Streams, Boosted Ratings and Curling

Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus, touting boosted viewership despite rampant time zone spoilers, laments his sidelined anchor: "He's very frustrated, more frustrated than any of us."
AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
Sochi Olympics

NBC Sports execs were decidedly pleased with the performance of the Sochi Winter Olympics, thus far, when they spoke with reporters on Wednesday afternoon -- late at night in the Russian venue. The seventh day of the games has ratings approaching the 2010 showing in Vancouver and, with multiple platforms, they're breaking records.

But before bragging about web traffic and the apparent irrelevance of time delay spoilers, NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus addressed the elephant in the room: Bob Costas. The face of the network's Olympic coverage will be missing in action again on Wednesday night, sidelined by a terrible infection.

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"It's been very unfortunate for him and for us and for viewers," said Lazarus, praising pinch hitter Matt Lauer. "He's very frustrated, more frustrated than any of us. … I'm not surprised it has gotten this much attention. Bob is America's Olympic host. They've come to expect him being here. When he's not, it's a story. We're taking it day by day, and we're hoping that Bob will be back in the chair soon."

As far as criticism, Lazarus again dismissed the editing of International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach's message of tolerance during the opening ceremony as nothing more than a time constraint. "We edited for time and time only. His message was that of tolerance, and we fully support the IOC on those issues. We have had private conversations with them on the matter since."

The negatives of Sochi -- press documenting poor hotel conditions, Russia's anti-gay laws -- have also not seemed to deter viewers. NBCUniversal president of research and media development Alan Wurtzel said polled viewers have proceeded as normal. "Our viewers were totally aware of all that," he said, "but a total 87 percent said it didn't matter to them."

Spoilers continue to be an issue for the Olympics, especially with Sochi being nine hours ahead of the East Coast, but Lazarus and Wurtzel said that it has not been a problem. Over the weekend, 44 percent of viewers who said that hearing results prior to Sunday coverage said it would have no impact on their intent. Speaking to Tuesday's spill for U.S. favorite Shaun White, Lazarus called it unfortunate but not a deal breaker.

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"It's almost impossible to say for sure, but we certainly like when stars win medals," he said. "The ratings were tremendous, even though most people knew he hadn't won. They wanted to see how it happened. It was a changing of the guard of sorts."

Digital is a bigger talking point in 2014. NBC cites 54 percent digital growth from Vancouver, crediting users' increased ease with cable authentication. With the growth in digital, NBC's total audience measurement index -- that includes TV, computer-based Internet, mobile and video-on-demand -- puts it at 160 million consumer media exposures for Sochi to date. That's an 11 percent boost from Vancouver.

"Vancouver was a domestic Olympics, essentially, and the thought that we are neck and neck with them and so far ahead of Torino (2006) is extraordinary," said Wurtzel. "I'm looking at some of the conventional metrics and saying we're doing great. I'm looking at the new metrics and saying we're doing incredible."

As for NBC's most viral moment, they noted that Russian speed skater Olga Graf's wardrobe malfunction is leading the pack with 2.5 million views and counting. And for live streams, White's Tuesday wipeout marked the second biggest in Olympic history with 600,000. (The women's soccer final in London still ranks as the biggest.)

Curling, while not part of NBC's primetime plan, also remains a talking point -- just as it was in 2010. Five telecasts on Monday delivered 5 million viewers to NBC Sports, making it the biggest performer in all of cable between noon and 7 p.m. It's a first for the network.