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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 7, 2002

KHNL ready for ratings bonanza from Games

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor

Hawai'i could emerge as the nation's gold-medal winner in viewership when the Winter Olympics unfolds on NBC.

"Hawai'i loves the Winter Olympics," said John Fink, general manager of KHNL-8, the NBC affiliate that will bring 17 days of same-day coverage to Hawai'i households, starting tomorrow.

If past ratings are an indicator, at least half of Hawai'i TVs tuned in between Feb. 8 and Feb. 24 will be watching Olympic figure skating, skiing, bobsledding and other winter sports.

"Hawai'i had the highest viewership of any of the top 75 markets in America during the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics," Fink said. And that year, the event was on a competitor's network: CBS.

"In 1994, from Lillehammer, Norway, Hawai'i posted the third-highest viewership in the country among the top 75 markets," Fink added. "The household ratings were 50 percent higher than the Super Bowl, but that was the year of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding."

More viewers do indeed tune in to the Olympics than the Super Bowl. And because the Olympics arrive amid the February sweeps, when TV's Nielsen ratings are compiled (ratings are also done in May and November), the outcome is particularly vital; viewership influences stations' ad rates for the following months.

Past Nielsen ratings show that Hawai'i viewers watch the winter sports avidly. For instance, in 1998, the Winter Olympics here in prime time had a 28 rating — meaning 28 percent of all TV sets were tuned to the Games — and a 47 share — meaning 47 percent of the sets that were turned on went for the Olympics. In 1994, the Winter Olympics drew a 37 rating and 54 share.

"Hawai'i gravitates to bigtime events, and the Olympics is as big as it gets," Fink said.

Clobbering the competition

Competing stations virtually halt all special programming and new broadcasts, pretty much conceding to the Olympics network for three weeks every four years.

"The bottom line is, we give up on February," said Mike Rosenberg, general manager of KITV-4, the ABC affiliate.

Rosenberg said TV stations that don't have the Olympics anticipate and prepare for the dip in advertising. "The strategy (among advertisers) is to pull back, and we do take a hit (on advertising), especially after 9/11," he said.

At KHON-2, Bill Spellman, the Fox station's general manager, sounded the same note.

"The competition is not going to compete or put on new or the very best against the Olympics," Spellman said. Like a true good sport, however, Spellman said any "event" on TV — be it breaking news, the Super Bowl or the Olympics — is good for television. "It's what we're supposed to do."

Over at CBS, however, local sources said the network is not giving up completely to the Olympic juggernaut.

"The network's doing everything it can to stunt the NBC coverage," said Lynne Mueller, general manager at KGMB-9. "The rationale is that the viewership is up during the Olympics. So there are lots of specials, miniseries and special movies, topped by the Grammy Awards on the last night. CBS thinks there will be incremental viewing. ... They just can't roll over."

KGMB is offering its own sports coverage, offering a live prime-time broadcast Feb. 23 of the Hawai'i State High School Boys Basketball Championships. "It's a big deal for us," Mueller said.

Ad slots get scarce

For those who buy time during the Olympics season, there's a lot at stake — high viewership comes at a premium price. Still, the winter sports are an easy sell.

In fact, local time slots are scarce, because local ads are sandwiched between national commercials, Fink said.

Fink predicted local advertising slots would be gone by week's end.

"Most of my clients who are advertising during this time period buy into the Olympics, one way or another," said Janette Hooton, media director at Myers Advertising. She declined to name names.

Hooton said the Olympics are the perfect showcase, "because you reach a wide variety of people of all demographics. Most families are interested in it, and it is a feel-good type of event. You don't have to be a sports fan, like with the Super Bowl — and most of our clients run image campaigns, rather than a product campaign, in keeping with the feel-good spirit of the games."

One product well suited for stay-at-home Olympics watchers is pizza, said Marc Witter, managing director at Ogilvy & Mather Hawai'i.

Pizza Hut, one of Ogilvy & Mather Hawai'i's clients, is a "premier sponsor" of the Olympics broadcast, Witter said. The pizza chain is investing in "a six-figure campaign" to run its advertisements during Olympics coverage.

Witter wouldn't say exactly how much Pizza Hut is spending, but he said the total is about what the company would normally divide among four local TV stations over the 17 days.

Pizza Hut is the designated "quick-service restaurant" (fast food outlet) among the local advertisers, to the exclusion of its local competitors. Viewers will note that if there is, for example, a McDonald's commercial during the Games, it will be a generic national ad, not locally produced.

Hooton surmised that Hawai'i's cultural diversity is a major factor in the wide viewership. "Hawai'i is made up of more cultural groups than many cities," she said, a favorable demographic consideration. "And, unlike the Super Bowl, which has a high male viewership, the Olympics draw women and even children. The audience is diverse; it's family."

The coverage will be 6:30 to 10 p.m. daily, except on Thursdays, when it's 6 to 10 p.m. Hourlong specials, from 4 to 5 p.m., will precede weekday local news and some weekend news.