U.S. TV networks take new risk by airing shows against Olympics

Thu May 12, 2016 5:13pm EDT
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By Jessica Toonkel

(Reuters) - The Olympics are such a television ratings juggernaut for NBCUniversal that rival U.S. networks have always watched from the sidelines, airing reruns and other cheap programs that are not going to attract many eyeballs.

But not this year.

With a growing number of people now viewing shows on-demand, CBS Corp (CBS.N: Quote) and Discovery Communications DISCA.O for the first time plan to pit new or popular shows against the global sporting event.

CBS, for example, will debut a scripted series about politics by the creators of hit show "The Good Wife." Not to be outdone, Discovery is bringing back its popular series "Naked and Afraid XL" -- a reality show where contestants must survive in the wilderness for 40 days with only one or two items.

Those decision show how quickly changing viewing habits are forcing media companies to reassess old ways of doing business to keep audiences engaged, and compete with on-demand programming from the likes of Netflix Inc (NFLX.O: Quote).

Also helping matters is that the Olympics -- running Aug. 5 to Aug. 21 this year -- coincide with the all-important back-to-school season when retailers spend big advertising dollars on TV commercials to market their clothes and school supplies.

"It used to be that we would just do enough programming to keep the lights on during the Olympics," said Michael Greco, executive vice president of programming and research at Discovery. "That discussion has completely changed."


A cameraman shoots the Rio 2016 Olympic torch during a National Sports Forum seminar  in Sao Paulo, Brazil, September 9, 2015. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker/File Photo