NBC executives call Olympic coverage a 'tolerable loss'

August 25, 1992|By Bill Carter | Bill Carter,New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- NBC executives describe the results of the network's more than $600 million investment in the 1992 Summer Olympics as a "tolerable loss," which they hope will be mitigated by gains the network may make in other programs that it promoted extensively during the heavily watched Olympics.

"In light of the things we hope will see some benefit because of how well the Games did, we're saying we had a tolerable loss," said Robert C. Wright, president of NBC.

But CBS executives, who say the network broke even on its coverage of the winter games from France, have concluded that the long-held belief that the Olympics can provide intangible benefits beyond the actual revenue they generate is now a dubious proposition. This, they say, may affect how much the networks are willing to pay for Olympic rights.

Estimates of how much NBC lost on the Barcelona Olympics have ranged from $40 million to $106 million. NBC executives strongly deny the high-end estimates.

During the Games, which gave NBC two weeks of unusually high ratings, the network extensively promoted its lineup of prime-time programs, its news programs and its new late-night host, Jay Leno.

Special attention went to two returning NBC shows, "Seinfeld" and "Blossom," which introduced new episodes the week after the Games ended, and two series the network has placed in its Sunday 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. time period.

Perhaps NBC's highest hopes centered on gaining some momentum for its evening newscast, which has languished behind ABC and CBS.

But from the early post-Olympic indications, the payoff for the NBC Olympic promotions has been mixed at best.

The two new Sunday night programs, "Secret Service" and "I Witness Video," both performed better than programs NBC had in those time periods before the Olympics, though they still lagged behind repeat offerings on the other networks. "Blossom" benefited most from the Olympic exposure, scoring its highest share of audience ever Aug. 17.

But the results for "Seinfeld," a much praised comedy NBC has been hoping to build into a major hit, were clearly disappointing. The first week after the Olympics ended, the show's performance with a new episode was barely better than it had been doing all summer with repeats.

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