Watching every minute of NBC's primetime broadcast of the WInter Olympics can be excruciatingly boring at times. But it did give me a wealth of data, and insights into how the event segments and commercial pods are structured (and which events really perform best).
It also provides some interesting tidbits into how Nieslen ratings don't always tell the whole story, and how even its count of commercial time is not necessarily accurate.
As I mentioned when the Games were getting underway, a lot of people don't realize that Nielsen does not provide national ratings for the entire primetime Olympics broadcast. This is because NBC places only local commercials in the first half-hour of several telecasts throughout the Games. Nielsen only provides ratings for primetime segments that also include national commercials.
We also see this at the end of many primetime sports broadcasts - Nielsen only measures the broadcast through the final national commercial pod. So if the last half-hour or more has only local commercials, that entire time frame is not reported by Nieslen in its national ratings. This happens all the time with Monday Night Football.
Here's a brief look at some programming and commercial pod dynamics for the 15 event nights (excluding the opening and closing ceremonies) of the 2010 Winter Olympics from Vancouver.
NBC broadcast 57 hours, 17 minutes of primetime Winter Olympics coverage - 12 hours, 14 minutes (22%) of that were not measured by Nielsen. This included six nights (including all three Saturdays) when the first half-hour had all local commercials). This also included last Wednesday, which was up against American Idol. This no doubt helped NBC to higher reported Olympic ratings for the night than it otherwise would have achieved. There were eleven nights that had the last portion of the telecast (ranging from 27 minutes to 1 hour, 20 minutes omitted from the ratings).
There were 15 hours, 15 minutes of commercials (national and local) and promos, or 27% of the entire Winter Olympics broadcast. This is the same percentage as primetime in general. However, about 70% of the typical primetime series is programming. But during the Winter Olympics, only 58% was devoted to actual event coverage. The remaining 15% was allocated to profiles, interviews recaps, medal ceremonies, and talking heads.
The WInter Olympics has shorter commercial pods than the typical primetime program. That's because the typical primetime series commercial break has either all national commercials or national commercials, followed by promos, and then local commercials. The Olympics mostly breaks the national and local commercials into separate pods.
There were 233 national commercial pods, averaging 2:40 per pod.
There were 94 pods containing only local commercials. All of them started with a network promo. These averaged only 2:01.
There were 37 commercial pods that contained both national and local commercials. These averaged 2:45 and all had a network promo separating the national and local commercials.
By comparison, the average commercial pod in a broadcast primetime series is about 3:10.
This is one reason why research will tend to show greater recall of ads - shorter commercial breaks often have less channel switching.
My count of 15 hours, 15 minutes of commercial/promo time will be significantly higher than what Nielsen will report. That's because I am including more than 2 hours of local commercials not picked up by Nielsen. I also count the 47 Billboard segments ("brought to you by..."), as well as the 30-35 second vignettes that led off 60 commercial breaks (such as "Coca Cola Uplifting Moments" or "Visa Getting You Closer"), which are ordinarily not captured as commercials by Nielsen's monitoring service. These vignettes also contribute to greater brand recall.
Following is a ranking of Winter Olympic primetime sports based on air time for each event. These were also the only sports to have at least one hour of overall air time.
|Men's Figure Skating||3:09:50|
|Men's Short Track||3:00:20|
|Figure Skating Pairs||2:46:55|
|Ladies Figure Skating||2:29:20|
|Women's Alpine Skiing||2:24:35|
|Men's Alpine Skiing||2:15:15|