Ratings slump, but Olympics still a big business

Juneau businesses take advantage of large audience

Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2006

This month, Juneau Pets and Supplies co-owner Dayna Robertson funneled the majority of her advertising dollars toward commercial slots during NBC's prime-time Winter Olympics coverage on KATH-TV.

Ratings are down these Olympics, but Robertson's decision appears to be paying off with broad exposure as Juneau tunes in for the Games.

"I've just had a lot of people commenting, 'I was watching ice skating; I saw your commercial,'" Robertson said. "I can't say that we've seen an increase in business. The more people that see it, they might need to come by in the next month."

Robertson's store opened last fall in the Mendenhall Mall.

Prime-time Nielsen ratings for NBC's Winter Olympics coverage are down 36 percent from the Salt Lake City games in 2002, and 17 percent from Nagano, Japan, in 1998, according to Nielsen Media Research. But the Games are still a boon for advertisers and the local NBC affiliates that sell the ads.

NBC is broadcasting 416 hours of Olympic coverage from Turin, Italy, on the network, as well as the cable stations MSNBC, CNBC and USA. Though the ratings have dropped, the network still drew an average of 19.4 million viewers for its prime-time coverage (7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. in Alaska) from Feb. 13-19. That was 8 million more viewers than second-place ABC (11.4 million), according to Nielsen.

KATH-TV general manager and vice president Charlie Ellis estimates the station's nightly audience has tripled during the Winter Games.

"The Olympics is kind of like the Super Bowl in that it's not necessarily a sport's game. It's more of an event," Ellis said. "In February, typically more people are inside watching television, so that's another reason we feel like we have a good audience."

"The spread of people watching is not just a male demographic or a female demographic," he said. "Chances are the ads are going to be seen by a pretty good percentage of people that would be interested in the product."

NBC sells the majority of its prime-time advertising spots to national advertisers but provides its affiliates with chunks of minutes to fill. KATH created a variety of packages that businesses could buy to dictate how many times their ads were seen. Ellis declined to reveal the rates and the amount of minutes the station sold.

"We did have some positive feedback prior to the Olympics, but it's still not like it's an easy sell," Ellis said. "The interest is more than for the normal prime-time lineup, unless there was some special event like an episode of 'Friends,' where a show is going away forever."

For Bullwinkle's Pizza Parlor owner Bill Adair, advertising during the Olympics is an obvious choice.

"It's like any major event when people tend to watch the TV more," Adair said. "Sunday night football, Monday night football, World Series, all major events such as that are peak advertising times, as anybody would tell you."

The Olympics have not dominated the ratings. "American Idol," on Fox, drew 31.1 million viewers on Wednesday, Feb. 15, and 27 million on Tuesday, Feb. 14, far more than NBC's prime-time share of 15.4 million, according to Nielsen.

In the widely sought 18-49 demographic, the scores for "American Idol," "Desperate Housewives," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Lost" crushed NBC, according to the New York Times.

But the Olympics' captive audience - that is, the number of people who are tuned in for the full 7-10:30 p.m. slot - has a great appeal for business owners such as Karen Fortwengler and her husband, Kevin. They opened K&K Auto in September.

"I've had a lot more people comment on (our ad) since it's been playing during the Olympics," Fortwengler said.

"Whether it be ice skating or skiing, I think everybody turns on the Olympics at one point," she said. "If people are watching that channel on a regular basis then I think it's a good opportunity for my business."

"We wanted to advertise, because it was the Olympics," Robertson said. "We watch the Olympics, and I figured most other people would be watching. You don't get a chance very often to be on something that's pretty historic."

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