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Published: Thursday, 2/13/2014 - Updated: 6 months ago

NBC's Lauer proves able substitute as Olympics audience expands

BLOOMBERG NEWS
NBC turned to Lauer, right, a host on “The Today Show,” to help carry prime-time coverage while Bob Costas recovers from an eye infection. NBC turned to Lauer, right, a host on “The Today Show,” to help carry prime-time coverage while Bob Costas recovers from an eye infection.
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LOS ANGELES — NBC “Today” show host Matt Lauer proved a suitable substitute for veteran Olympics anchor Bob Costas as events including the women’s downhill drew more TV viewers to the network’s nightly telecast.

The Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia, attracted a larger prime-time U.S. TV audience on Feb. 11, with Lauer anchoring coverage on Comcast’s NBC after Costas fell ill. Events including alpine skier Julia Mancuso and short track skater Shani Davis drew 23.7 million viewers, compared with 22.4 million for the Feb. 10 coverage, according to Nielsen data.

NBC turned to Lauer, a host on “The Today Show,” to help carry prime-time coverage while Costas recovers from an eye infection. The Feb. 11 telecast marked the first time since CBS aired the games in 1988 that someone other than Costas anchored events for U.S. viewers. So far, ratings are down 2 percent from Vancouver four years ago.

“The issue to date is the relative lack of American gold medalists in the venues, not the lack of Costas in the studio,” said Lee Berke, president and chief executive officer of LHB Sports, Entertainment & Media, a consultant based in Scarsdale, N.Y. “However, all it takes is one special athlete and that can change quickly.”

The network said in a statement Wednesday night’s ratings rose 17 percent from the live coverage of the first Tuesday four years ago in Vancouver.

“Bob is America’s Olympic host and people have been watching Bob do this and do it extraordinarily well for several decades,” Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports, said Wednesday on a conference call. “The doctors here in Russia have worked hard to clear it up but it’s a slow process. He’s very frustrated, more frustrated than any of us.”

Lauer hosted the coverage again Wednesday night. Costas told Lauer on “Today” Wednesday morning that blurred vision and other symptoms of his infection would keep him sidelined again.

“I keep expecting Costas to follow in the footsteps of Willis Reed and hobble heroically in and take us through the second half, but so far no action in the wings, so we will move forward,” Lauer said on his first night as anchor.

NBC’s Feb. 11 prime-time coverage began at 8 p.m with Mancuso’s unsuccessful pursuit of a medal in downhill skiing, where she finished eighth. The network also aired Davis’s eighth-place finish in the men’s 1,000-meter speed skating, as well as women’s snowboard halfpipe and pairs figure skating.

Through five days of prime-time Olympics coverage, NBC is averaging 25.9 million viewers a night among audiences watching the telecasts as they occurred or on the same day using recorders. That compares with 26.4 million for the first five days in Vancouver in 2010, according to Nielsen data.

Olympics coverage has helped NBC’s “Today” show, hosted by Lauer, grab the lead in morning coverage, according to Nielsen data from cited by the Hollywood Reporter.



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