The title of this story can be read a few different ways. I'd like for you to read it with an emphasis on the "NBC," a la, "Does anyone care that NBC is broadcasting the 2012 Summer Olympics?"
Reading through a pretty interesting backgrounder in The Hollywood Reporter on Bob Costas' history with NBC Sports and NBC's aspirations in pouring a whopping $4.38 billion into the rights for four Olympic Games, I was struck by a section that discussed the importance of the Olympics to the brand beyond obvious "promotional opportunities," i.e. as many cross-promotions-per-minute as possible:
But the Olympics are more than a promotional opportunity (analysts expect NBC to lose as much as $200 million on London). Like Sunday Night Football, the Games are inextricably tied to the identity of NBC and, at this moment, serve as the network's life preserver. "The fact that NBC Entertainment hasn't been doing as well as it should," says Burke, "has made it more important to retain the NFL and the Olympics than it otherwise would be. That's definitely true."
Five or ten years ago, I wouldn't have blinked at such a statement. But today, I don't really buy it.
Sure, I believe that NBC and broadcast networks believe that prestige and "brand-building" offerings are important, but I don't think the viewing public does.
Let's break this down. For a premium cable network like HBO or Showtime, "prestige" series like Boardwalk Empire or Homeland have some cache as they may draw people to pay the subscription to access their offerings. But for free ad-supported fare like NBC, are people going to be more likely to watch Whitney or Fear Factor or Grimm just because it's the same network that happens to broadcast the Olympics or the NFC football package?
No. There are simply too many entertainment choices in most homes for people to maintain that kind of brand connection.
Sure, the ratings that 17 days of summer Olympics coverage will garner will afford the NBC the opportunity to push its sizzling and sensational fall lineup ad nauseam, but people aren't going to watch more NBC shows in October strictly based on the fact that, hey, this is the very same prestigious network that had the supreme honor of broadcasting the Olympic Games from London this past summer.