Olympics Will Mean Easy Sledding for NBC Station

Staff Reporter

The athletes in Salt Lake City aren't the only ones going for the gold.

KNBC-TV (Channel 4) has a major head start in the February sweeps as the local television station for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Normally a ratings winner, the two-week competition promises to draw especially good numbers because the games are being held in the United States at a time when patriotic sentiment is running high.

With more viewers tuning in, KNBC is expected to beat out the competition in this ratings-tracking period, but the real test will be whether the station can hold onto any potential gains once the Olympics are over.

Looking to maximize its opportunity, the station has sent 19 staff members to Utah and plans to generate its 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts from a studio in Salt Lake City. KNBC also produced a special on local Olympic athletes, which was scheduled to air Friday, Feb. 8, and added an "Olympics Edition" of its newscast from 7 to 7:30 p.m.

"It's like having the Super Bowl several times over," said KNBC News Director Kimberly Godwin. "Hopefully, a lot of those people who are watching in February will decide they like what they see and stay with us."

Strong lead-in programming pretty much decides a local newscast's place in the ratings. KABC-TV (Channel 7) long has been the winner on weekday afternoons, thanks to "The Oprah Winfrey Show," while KNBC, with a stronger network primetime line-up, is used to beating the competition at 11 p.m. This month, KNBC will have Olympics coverage (running Feb. 8-24) leading into most of its afternoon and evening newscasts.

"The Olympics goes a long way toward having a tremendously positive impact on KNBC's ratings," said Jack Myers, editor of the Jack Myers Report, an industry newsletter.

KCBS-TV (Channel 2), L.A.'s perennial third-place station, saw its 11 p.m. newscast jump to No. 2 with a 7.8 rating when CBS broadcast the 1998 Winter Olympics from Nagano, Japan. By May 1998, that same newscast's rating had slipped to 5.9.

"Undoubtedly, the Olympics is a huge programming property," said Rozanne Englehart, director of programming and research at KCBS. "We did fabulous and we attracted all kinds of viewership all day long."

KNBC likely will get an even greater boost than KCBS did in 1998 because of the geographic proximity of the Olympics and the continuing patriotic fervor generated by the Sept. 11 attacks.

Counterprogramming strategy

While the Olympics promise to boost KNBC's advertising revenues, they likely will hurt other stations in the market, although election-related ad spending may help offset some of those expected losses. Advertisers that can't afford to buy time on KNBC this month may not want to spend their money on stations expected to lose in the ratings war.

Even so, efforts are being made to offer alternatives. CBS, for instance, will target male viewers with action films, including "Breakdown" and "The Fugitive" as counterprogramming to Olympic events popular with women, such as figure skating.

The games also are affecting local stations' sweeps line-ups. Viewers can expect to see sensational news stories throughout the month, but some stations made an effort to air what they consider their strongest material before the start of the Olympics.

KABC sent anchor Marc Brown to the Philippines and reporter David Jackson to Afghanistan for its "Heart of Danger" series that ran last week.

Asked if the games influenced the series' placement, KABC News Director Cheryl Fair said: "Yes and no. We always try to come out of the gate with the best stuff, so we probably would have played it there whether the Olympics were that week or not."

While NBC gets most of the advertising time available during the games, 25 percent of it will be sold locally, said one L.A. media buyer. Local sales goals have been surpassed and the Olympic broadcasts will likely "enhance the station's revenue potential," according to Cathy Jacquemin, vice president of sales at KNBC. The station declined to disclose further financial information.

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