NBCUniversal Execs Briefly Acknowledge “Complicated” Situation In Beijing, But Focus On Business Potential Of Olympics-Super Bowl Combo

In a video presentation released this afternoon, NBCUniversal executives touted their rare February combo of the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics while only briefly touching on the “complicated” situation in Beijing.

The 80-minute video was shared with media, but there was no question-and-answer opportunity for press, as there has been in the past. Several times a year, the company typically hosts calls with network execs and talent ahead of major sports broadcasts, including the Olympics.

The rise of the Omicron variant partly explains today’s shift to a virtual footing, a contrast to a set of panels hosted last spring at 30 Rockefeller Center ahead of the Tokyo Games. But there are also a swarm of issues surrounding Beijing, which could likely have crowded out more upbeat or personality-driven sentiment. The U.S. has enacted a diplomatic boycott of the Games, citing human rights violations by the Chinese government.

Molly Solomon, president and executive producer of NBC Olympics production, was asked by on-air host Mike Tirico about the company’s plan for addressing the “geopolitical issues” in China. “We’re going to be focusing on telling the stories of Team USA and covering the competition, but the world as we know is a really complicated place right now,” she said. “We understand that there’s some diff issues regarding the host nation. So our coverage will provide perspective on China’s place in the world.” At the same time, she added, “the athletes do remain the centerpiece of our coverage.”

Two experts on Chinese affairs, journalist Andrew Browne and Yale professor Jing Tsu, have been added as on-air personalities slated to appear in primetime, Solomon announced.

NBCU is 30 years into a long-term relationship with the Olympics, though it has lately turned a bit more problematic. Initially looking to Tokyo as “rocket fuel” for the launch of streaming service Peacock in 2020, the company faced a complex effort in broadcasting the Covid-delayed Tokyo Games last year.

One of the more remarkable comments in the presentation came from NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua. Reflecting on the record amount of programming hours devoted to Tokyo last summer, he acknowledged criticism that the offering was unwieldy. This year’s decision to put every event on Peacock was aimed at fixing that. “I’d be the first to admit that we had to make it easier for the viewer to navigate that, to digest the amount of Olympic content,” Bevacqua said.

Turning to the Super Bowl, Dan Lovinger, president of NBCU ad sales and partnerships, said the big game is nearly sold out, but the company has reserved a handful of slots until the final lead-up. Pacing at about 20% above NBC’s last Super Bowl telecast in 2018, the game has seen select 30-second spots sell for as much as $6.5 million.

Asked about the ad experience for the viewer, Lovinger predicted “a return to a more comedic tone. … We all need that.”

Lovinger said he and his team are trying to guide advertisers through an uncertain process for the Winter Olympics given the China factor. “While we wish that there was no diplomatic boycott, we certainly understand it,” he said. The boycott means “our diplomats won’t be in Beijing. Our athletes will be there and will be excited to be there.”

A decision by a skittish advertiser to sit out an event like Beijing due to socio-political considerations, he argued, “really hurts our athletes,” who don’t receive the government funding that athletes elsewhere do.

So far, not many are on the sidelines. There are nearly 100 individual advertisers for Beijing, Lovinger noted, including 40 new ones. That number is consistent with the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, as is the average spending per brand.

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