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NBC executive says these Olympics could be most profitable ever, despite pandemic

National Stadium in Tokyo is scheduled to host the opening ceremony July 23.
National Stadium in Tokyo is scheduled to host the opening ceremony July 23.Kiichiro Sato/Associated Press

NBCUniversal’s broadcast of the Tokyo Olympics could be its most profitable ever, even with many parts of the world still battling the coronavirus pandemic.

Jeff Shell, who leads Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal entertainment division, made the prediction Monday at an investor conference. He cited high demand for commercial slots from advertisers, along with the strength and popularity of the US team.

“Depending on how ratings are, it could be our most profitable Olympics in the history of the company,” Shell said at the Credit Suisse conference.

The 17-day Summer Games are set to begin in late July.

Despite growing concern over the pandemic in Japan, NBC executives are proceeding as if the Olympics will begin as scheduled. The company plans more than 7,000 hours of programming across its broadcast and cable channels, as well as on its Peacock streaming service.

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NBC executives are betting that pent-up demand following last summer’s postponement will drive higher viewership and turn around recent ratings declines.

In March 2020, before the pandemic forced the Games to be delayed, NBC said it sold more than $1.25 billion in ads, a record, for the Olympics. The company hasn’t updated sales data for the rescheduled games.

Comcast paid $4.4 billion for US rights to televise the Olympics from 2014 to 2020, or about $1.1 billion a year. It then agreed to pay another $7.75 billion to air the Games from 2021 to 2032, or about $1.3 billion a year.

Though TV viewership has declined during recent Olympic Games, NBC still makes money on the event. The 2016 Olympics in Rio delivered a $250 million profit.

The performance of US athletes will play a big role in how the ratings go. The better they do, the more people watch.

“Simone Biles is just amazing,” Shell said, referring to the renowned US gymnast who will feature prominently in first-week coverage. “She’s going to be on every night, and then our swimming team is really strong, and our track and field team is really strong.”

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