A spectator from Thailand wears traditional clothes and has his...

A spectator from Thailand wears traditional clothes and has his face painted with the national flags of Thailand and Britain outside Wembley Arena badminton venue at the 2012 Summer Olympics. (Aug. 1, 2012) Credit: AP

NBC is set to "break even" on its Olympics coverage, rather than lose money as previously expected, the head of NBCUniversal said Wednesday.

The company had expected at one point to take a $200 million loss on the London Olympics. NBC paid $1.2 billion for the rights to show the games on TV and online in the U.S. It has said that it sold more than $1 billion in ads, breaking the record of $850 million set during the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

"We are way ahead of where we thought we'd be," NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said Wednesday.

Burke said that because of the timing of events in London, he had expected ratings to be down 20 percent compared with the Beijing Olympics. But they are up 9 percent so far, five days into the event.

"We think that is because of the way we promoted the Olympics during the hundred days leading up to the Olympics," Burke said.

Tuesday's Olympics telecast, featuring Michael Phelps' record-setting swim and the gold medal performance of the U.S. women's gymnastics team, had the highest rating of any night so far, according to Nielsen's overnight measurement of the nation's largest cities. An exact viewership estimate is expected later Wednesday.

The Olympics run through Aug. 12. The time difference with Europe doesn't allow for live events in primetime. In Beijing four years ago, NBC was able to show morning events live in the evening.

Burke made the comments on a conference call with Wall Street analysts to discuss the second-quarter earnings report of Comcast Corp., NBCUniversal's parent company.

Burke said he was speaking on a "cash on cash" basis, which doesn't directly translate into a profit for the company.

From a formal accounting perspective, the treatment of the Olympics is more complicated, as NBC made the deal with the International Olympic Committee before the Comcast bought the controlling stake in NBCUniversal early last year. Some of the loss was eliminated through purchase accounting. Comcast Chief Financial Officer Michael Angelakis said on the call that the end result would be that the company will post a small gain from the event in the current quarter.

Last year, NBC outbid Fox and ESPN to gain the rights for four more Olympics, paying $4.38 billion through 2020.

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