By Duncan Mackay

January 10 - Broadcaster NBC  is expecting to make losses of up to $200 million (£124 million) when it screens the Olympics in Vancouver next month - even though advertising sales are on a par for the two previous Winter Games - which could make negotiations even tougher for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) when the bidding opens for a new contract.

General Electric (GE), the parent company of NBC Universal, is currently languishing in last place among the four major United States TV networks in the ultra-competitive ratings war, paid a record $2.2 billion (£1.3 billion) in 2003 for the US broadcast rights for Vancouver 2010 and London 2012, 46 per cent more than they paid for Turin 2006 and Beijing 2008.

Dick Ebersol, NBC's Olympics executive producer  said: "[Ad] sales, which were slow in the spring and early summer due to the economy, have suddenly taken off, and we are well on our way to do the same number we did in Torino [in 2006] and Salt Lake City [in 2002]."

Jeff Immelt, the chairman and chief executive of GE, the parent of NBC Universal. last month told a meeting of investors they were likely to lose “a couple hundred million bucks on the Olympics broadcast this winter."

Ebersol said: "Sadly we will for the first time in all our years I've been with the Games lose money on the Olympics, but it won't be because the sales didn't come around."

NBC have nevertheless already promised that they will be bid for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, when they expect to face competition from a joint bid from ABC and ESPN and CBS.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is due to officially open negotiations later this year.

The Games traditionally bring in large audiences and attract lucrative advertising to the US networks but the IOC have already admitted that they expect the fee will be lower than they hoped for after Chicago failed to win its bid to host the 2016 Olympics.

But Ebersol is first concentrating on delivering successful Games coverage from Vancouver, when NBC is due to run 835 hours of competition, most of it live on network TV and on its cable outlets including MSNBC and USA.

The figure is double the broadcast hours of previous winter Olympics.

Most other US networks have refrained from scheduling big shows during the Games and both the Grammy music awardsand the Oscars are moving to before or after the Olympics, which start on February 12 and end on February 28.

"American Idol", the find-a-star television show whose judges include Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson and which dominates the US ratings at this time of the year, on Rupert Murdoch's News Corp's Fox television network will, however, challenge NBC's Olympics coverage on four nights in February, including two when they will show live figure skating.

Ebersol said: "Will we beat them?

"I don't know, that's the number one show on TV.

"But I do think we'll do much better against Idol those two nights because we're [showing] live [skating]."

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected].

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