NEW YORK (AP) -- NBC has started running additional commercials in its telecasts of the Sydney Olympics to compensate advertisers for a shortfall in TV audiences.
An extra two ads per hour, on average, were shown during the network's Olympics show on Wednesday night.
The move translates into a slight trimming of some aspect of what viewers see of the Sydney Games, be it competition coverage, feature stories or studio reports.
Nielsen numbers through the first five nights of the games were 9 percent lower than the 16.1 minimum national rating that ad buyers were guaranteed.
The 14.6 cumulative average rating through Tuesday's telecast -- each rating point represents a little more than 1 million TV households -- puts the Sydney Olympics on course to be the lowest-rated Summer Games ever.
In the run-up to these Olympics, NBC Sports touted its plan to show nine minutes of commercials per hour, saying that was 30 seconds less than for its broadcasts during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and about a minute under what the four major broadcast networks average during prime time.
Now, though, less than a week into the Olympics, that plan has been changed because the ratings have been lower than anticipated.
Instead of 18 national ads each hour, NBC's audiences are seeing 20 -- in addition to local affiliates' ad time.
The extra commercials, in theory, allow sponsors to get their messages across to as many Olympics viewers as they had counted on when they paid as much as $600,000 for a half-minute commercial in prime time on NBC.
"Even at 20 units, that's at the current network average and below what's often on during prime time," NBC Sports vice president Kevin Sullivan said from Sydney.
"The viewer's experience is not affected."
NBC paid the International Olympic Committee $705 million for the exclusive U.S. broadcast rights to the Sydney Olympics -- $249 million more than the network paid for the Atlanta Games.
The network also owns the rights to each of the next four Olympics, through 2008, at a combined cost of about $2.8 billion. Ad rates for those games will be based in part on how the ratings turn out for the Sydney Olympics.
NBC Sports compiled a record $900 million in gross advertising sales for these Olympics, turning a profit on what it spent on rights fees and $100 million in production costs.
The extra ads won't affect the network's bottom line, NBC has said.
Through Tuesday night -- Wednesday night's ratings were expected to be released late Thursday -- the cumulative ratings were 36 percent lower than for the Atlanta Games, and 12 percent below what the 1988 Seoul Olympics averaged through the same number of days.
There are several factors that could be contributing to the drop-off. They include the 15-hour time difference between Sydney and the East Coast; NBC's decision, based on that gap, to show all competition on tape, from two to 20 hours after it takes place; and TV competition from college and pro football and baseball's pennant races.
All of those elements, though, were taken into account when NBC told sponsors what to expect from the ratings.
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