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Scott D. Pierce: Can NBC, KSL exploit Olympic opportunity?

Published February 6, 2014 4:13 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Here's the most obvious prediction of the month: NBC will win the February sweeps.

Well, duh. The network is telecasting the Winter Olympics, which tend to do quite well in the ratings. And, for the most part, the other networks aren't challenging NBC much — ABC, CBS, Fox, The CW and many cable networks will be airing a whole lot of reruns between now and Feb. 23, when the Sochi Games end.

(There are a few exceptions, like "American Idol," but most of the shows that are not in repeats are not going to be around for much longer, anyway. )

Here's the second most obvious prediction of the month: The Olympic ratings will boost KSL's late newscasts … perhaps enough to move Channel 5 back into first place.

And, when the Olympics are over, NBC's and KSL's big ratings will mean … absolutely nothing. A national advertiser is not going to be dumb enough to pay a premium for a spot in a low-rated show like "Community" just because the Olympics do a big number.

Local advertisers aren't dumb enough to pay any attention to the February sweeps ratings because they will be so warped by the Olympic lead-in — or the lack of an Olympic lead-in for every station other than KSL.

So why spend more than a billion dollars to acquire the rights to and produce the Olympics when, at best, the network will make a modest profit?

The hope is that the Games can be used as a promotional platform to lure viewers to NBC's regular programming.

"I think to get that kind of audience for two weeks and to actually get the eyeballs to promote our shows in front of them — that it will have an effect," said NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt. "Hopefully, we are promoting the right shows and they're shows that people like."

That's the tough part. Just because you promote the heck out of a show doesn't mean viewers are going to tune in. And if they do, it doesn't mean they will like what they see.

You may recall that, just 19 months ago, NBC used its telecasts of the London Games to air promos for the sitcom "Animal Practice" ad nauseum. And that show got the ax after five low-rated episodes.

This time around, you're going to be seeing plenty of advertising for upcoming shows like "About a Boy," "American Dream Builders," "Believe," "Crisis" and "Growing Up Fisher."

You're also going to see KSL trying to put its best foot forward with its newscasts. Doing well in February won't be a big accomplishment — the folks at Channel 5 could probably do that with a test pattern.

But getting viewers who tune in this month to return next month and the months after that will be measure of KSL's Olympic success.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.