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GE's Olympic Score

Posted by: Jena McGregor on August 25, 2008

Well, the Olympics are over, and Michael Phelps may be going home with eight gold medals, but he might as well start receiving GE dividends. The extraordinary swimmer helped to fuel Olympic mania, sending viewership of the peacock network, which is owned by conglomerate General Electric, soaring. In the end, the Beijing Olympics were the most-watched event in TV history, according to Nielsen Media Research. Olympics watching surpassed executives’ “wildest expectations” and drew in more viewers than the games in either Sydney or Athens.

With that kind of eyeball-(and therefore, advertising-) luring ability, the Olympics may be just the thing that quiets critics who’ve been calling for GE to sell NBC. While investors have long questioned its fit in a sprawling company that also makes wind turbines and jet engines, CEO Immelt has long insisted NBC has great margins (among the best in the company), solid cash flow, and is a good business. Right now, he looks to be right.

Of course, NBC’s Olympics success didn’t come without some smart, savvy management behind it: Fascinating today was the New York Times’ story about Dick Ebersol’s strategies for getting more sports to be watched in prime time. The story reveals that Ebersol checked with Michael Phelps before pushing to have swimming and gymnastics moved to morning competitions in Beijing, meaning they’d be played in prime time back home. And knowing that the Olympics would compete with other sports if they weren’t aired until September, as past Olympics had been, Ebersol worked to get the games moved back to August. In the process, the story busts the myth that the 08/08/08 start date was all about Chinese mysticism. The U.S. Open schedule, it turned out, had something to do with it.

But while the Olympics may have been a stunning success for NBC, they didn’t score on every front. The Wall Street Journal reports today that research firm eMarketer estimates NBC’s online video ad revenues for the game were just $5.75 million. (Here’s how they determined that number.) NBC limited its potential online ad revenue, the WSJ’s story reports, due to preserving some exclusivity for TV advertisers (for some big events, it didn’t make live video available online). It also didn’t distribute its videos widely on other sites, a move that would have broadened its audience.

Reader Comments


August 25, 2008 4:11 PM

Totally agree

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