Here we are barely three weeks out from the Super Bowl and NBC has yet to sell all its ads. Same for the ensuing Winter Olympics. The network is predicting a half-billion dollars revenue from the big game pitting who-knows-who against who-knows-who in who-cares-where. (Minneapolis)
And another $900 million from ad sales during the Winter Olympics in South Korea immediately after, assuming no war. It’s the first time these two major sports events occur so close to each other on the same network.
It’s an immense economic gamble for NBC, which has committed to live-sports programming but now finds live-sports ratings tumbling for events like the National Football League and Olympics. NBC is paying $12 billion to those old guys on the Olympic Committee through 2032.
But more trouble looms. First of all, viewers now have many more entertainment options, including video of virtually every program ever broadcast, many more ways of viewing them and most of the programs are not occurring in Asia tomorrow while the U.S. sleeps.
So worried is NBC that it’s invented a new phrase “Total Audience Delivery.” One NBC exec explains, “A viewer is really a viewer.”
This tactic allows the network to count notoriously inattentive online viewers as part of its guaranteed audience for ad buyers. NBC claims advertisers are paying “about” $167,000 per second for a half-minute window into noisy sports bars and overeating living rooms.
Viewership for last year’s Super Bowl game was 111 million people. Unexpectedly, that was down from the previous year. And that was for a pretty dramatic football game featuring a record second-half collapse by the Atlanta Falcons to some Northeastern team.
Continuing the trend, this fall Nielsen reported average viewership for NFL games was down nearly 10 percent. As we’ve reported here, positive views of the NFL have fallen 18 points in recent years and a stunning one-third of NFL fans say they have stopped watching the league this year.
The league, which gave Commissioner Roger Goodell a huge new contract and major bonus incentives for his performance, has endured countless controversies from off-putting, off-field thuggery by players, to an alarming number of head injuries to excessive player showboating to a surfeit of lousy match-ups producing really boring games with sad scores too easily divided by three.
Then, there’s this emotional Trump-fueled kneeling business, which thrust politics and players protesting unrelated social issues directly into the face of viewers accustomed to watching the games to escape the very same issues.
On Twitter, players kneeling in disrespect of the National Anthem have spawned many hashtags, including NFLProtest and BoycottSuperBowl. More kneelings are expected during this weekend’s playoff contests.
Of course, in the end Comcast’s NBC will peddle all its ad slots, even if last-minute buyers get special rates. Don’t worry, you online viewers will get your full share of commercials too.
Few companies can resist a crowd of 100 million, even if at any one time three-quarters of them are reloading chip bowls or using the smallest room in the house.