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How Other Networks Compete Against Olympic Games


NBC's coverage of the London Olympics is a ratings hit - which can present a problem for other networks looking to lure viewers, especially those dedicated to broadcasting sports. John Ourand is a media reporter for Sports Business Daily, and he's been checking to see what else is on.

JOHN OURAND: ESPN, which is the main sports competitor to the Olympics, has decided that they're going to treat this as business as usual. So they said that their programming - which is baseball games and some NFL programming, and a lot of the studio programming - they were expecting to see about a 10 to 15 percent ratings drop. And they say they're probably down a little bit more than that, but it's really not significant.

INSKEEP: Well, that's interesting. I mean, people use the phrase counterprogramming. It sounds like ESPN's counterprogramming is just to do nothing, and assume that the baseball addicts and the football addicts will stick with them.

OURAND: Exactly. ESPN takes a look at the demographics that watch the Olympics. And they're typically female, and they're typically older. And those are demographics that aren't on ESPN anyway. So ESPN decided, rather than cede everything to the Olympics and let them even take the younger, avid sports fans, they're just going to do business as usual; and they're going to roll out sports for people that want to watch sports. And you're seeing this, also, at the local level; where regional sports networks have their baseball teams and their soccer teams, and they're still just showing those games. And people are still coming to see those games, though not nearly in as big a - numbers.

INSKEEP: Well, this may get to an insight that would help us, in a lot of different ways. Does this suggest that the hard-core sports fan audience is actually a tremendously different audience than the Olympic audience?

OURAND: I think that is exactly why - all of these people complaining about NBC, aren't realizing who NBC is programming to. Typically, sports fans want to see their sports; and they want to see the events as they happen - live, immediately. What NBC has decided is that they're catering to families; and they're catering to women; and they're catering to people who either aren't sports fans, or are very casual sports fans - which is why, in their prime-time shows, you're seeing a lot of these syrupy stories about athletes that have overcome adversity and are now champions in their sport. Because that appeals not to the hard-core sports fan, but it appeals to the various - casual one, or the people that don't like sports at all.

INSKEEP: So when I watched fencing or water polo the other day, with my daughter, I was the typical Olympic viewer; and it could very well be that a fencing enthusiast, or a water polo enthusiast, hated this coverage.

OURAND: I don't know if they hated the actual coverage of it. But they probably hated the prelim - like, the story that led into the coverage - and they probably didn't like the story that led out of the coverage. And if you were watching the fencing on tape-delay, they especially hated that.

INSKEEP: So what are ABC and CBS - the other broadcast networks - doing?

OURAND: Well, broadcast networks go after these audiences as well. So NBC has 17 days where they're going to have the number one show in prime time. So what ABC and CBS and Fox are doing, is they're rolling out repeats. They're rolling out programming that is either really cheap to produce or that has already run.

INSKEEP: Well, now, wait a minute. So we're saying ESPN isn't really counterprogramming; they're just doing the usual. Some of the other networks are not really counterprogramming; they're actually doing a little less than usual. Is anybody out there aggressively trying to grab some audience, in this situation?

OURAND: You know, it'd be really risky for people to spend a lot of money to actually grab an audience. A couple of years ago, during the Torino Games, Fox decided that they were going to counterprogram the Winter Olympics with new episodes of "American Idol" - back when "American Idol" was extremely popular. And in fact, "American Idol" won a couple of the nights, doing that. The Summer Olympics is a completely different animal. And the Summer Olympics in London, is even more different than that.

INSKEEP: Different animal because the Summer Olympics are more popular, and people love the idea of London, and the timing is nice - and everything else.

OURAND: Exactly.

INSKEEP: Well, John Ourand, thanks very much for sorting that out.

OURAND: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: He's media reporter for the Sports Business Journal. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.