The postponement of the 2020 Olympics delivers a short-term blow to US broadcasting giant NBC but the network is unlikely to suffer lasting damage from the bombshell decision, analysts say.
The global coronavirus pandemic forced the International Olympic Committee and Japanese government to call off the July 24-August 9 games on Tuesday, a move never before seen in peacetime in the Olympics’ 124-year history.
While the decision was welcomed by increasingly anxious athletes and sports federations who had lobbied for a postponement, it handed a giant headache to the IOC’s long-term broadcast partners NBC.
NBC, which has aired the Olympics since 1988, paid the IOC a gargantuan $7.75 billion for broadcast rights to the Olympics in 2014, a deal which runs through to the conclusion of the 2032 Summer Games.
The Summer and Winter Olympics coverage are cornerstones of NBC’s sports content strategy, delivering a money-spinning, blockbuster event for the network every two years.
Patrick Crakes, a media consultant and former Fox Sports executive, says retooling preparations to cover the Tokyo Olympics in a year’s time are difficult but not insurmountable.
“I can’t think of a bigger organizational mess,” Crakes told AFP. “But on the upside I think they’ll figure it out.
“It’s just such a massive undertaking. The Olympics are a strategic investment for Comcast/NBC Universal. The entire organization is oriented every two years towards producing, promoting and executing an audiovisual telecast for the Olympics. Now you’ve got to redo everything.
“All that infrastructure stuff – the support, the crews, the teams both onsite and in the United States – you’ve got to redo all that. Usually you get a couple of years to do all that. Now you’ve got to redo it in 12 months.
“So they’re going to incur costs with that. Not everything’s going to be available like it was, there will be some kind of new problem, so they’ll have to juggle things.”
– Advertising bonanza –
Brian Roberts, the chairman and chief executive of NBC Universal’s parent company Comcast, said before the postponement the company would be able to cope if the Olympics did not take place in 2020.
“There should be no losses should there not be an Olympics. It just wouldn’t be a profit this year,” Roberts told a conference in San Francisco on March 3.
NBC Universal banked $250 million in profit from its Rio Olympics coverage after generating $1.2 billion in advertising sales. The company had already sold $1.25 billion worth of commercials for the 2020 Games.
The company was also banking on the Olympics to drive enthusiasm for its new streaming service, Peacock, due to be launched in the United States on July 15.
“NBC is losing that promotional window for Peacock and also for its new fall season programming,” Jon Swallen, chief research officer for Kantar Media, told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s a blow in the short term because that July-through-August period is typically soft for advertising. Every four years when the Summer Olympics come around, it’s a huge windfall for NBCU.”
Crakes, though, believes any losses will be recovered in the long term.
“The distributors, NBC, the Olympics – they are all married together in a three-way value chain that is long term,” he said.
“While everyone’s got to look out for themselves they have a real serious incentive to cooperate and try and figure out how to do the best and make everybody whole in the short term.
“Because they’re going to redo the Olympics next year. They’re still going to be there…so they’re going to get hurt by this, but I think they’ll find a way to claw back a lot of this somehow. Not all of it. But they’ll claw it back.
One potential silver lining of the postponement could be an ever greater sense of anticipation surrounding the Olympics as the world emerges from the seismic upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Olympics next year could be a celebration of the world beating its oldest enemies – micro-organisms,” Crakes told AFP.
“When sport does get back up and running there’s going to be a lot of people very happy about it. Because it signals a return to normalcy.
“And sports television is probably the most human of all art forms, because it’s human beings struggling in the moment. The Olympics are the ultimate celebration of sport.”
Jay Rosenstein, a former vice president of programming at CBS Sports, agreed.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but after all of this audiences may be looking forward to the world coming together next year,” Rosenstein told CNN.