There’s no doubt Channel Nine’s head honchos will feel bruised by the bollocking their station’s Olympic Games coverage has copped from journalists and social media users over the past two weeks. As of this morning, over 28,000 people have “liked” the Channel Nine Olympics Coverage Sucks Facebook page; Twitter, meanwhile, has been ablaze with comments bagging Eddie McGuire’s commentary efforts.

But if their post-Olympics programs win ratings gold, Gyngell & co will literally be laughing all the way to the bank. It’s the audience figures for tonight’s heavily promoted Big Brother debut — not this morning’s closing ceremony — that really count.

“You buy the Olympics for two reasons: to sell premium advertising and to use them as a platform to cross-promote shows for the second half of the year,” Mat Baxter, the CEO of media buying agency UM, told Crikey.

“The biggest Olympics advertiser is Channel Nine.”

Before the Games, speculation was rampant that Nine could lose $40 million on its coverage. Over the weekend, Jeff Browne, Nine’s managing director, said the losses would be less than $20 million.

Baxter says it would be easy to recoup such a figure with a few big hits in the back end of the year.

“If they can get their shows firing, they’ll easily be able to reclaim any lost revenue,” he said.

Baxter is optimistic about Nine’s post-Games line-up, which emphasises Aussie-made shows such as Big Brother, another Underbelly series and the Kerry Packer-inspired Howzat mini series rather than overseas buy-ins.

The big lesson over the past two years, he says, is that viewers are hungry for locally produced content given foreign shows are easily accessible through DVDs or the internet.

Big Brother will be an crucial test of Nine’s Olympics investment. It’s been promoted ad nauseum over the past two weeks, is extremely expensive to produce, and occupies a key timeslot.

“If Big Brother pulls in 1.8, 1.9, 2 million tonight they will be really happy with that,” Baxter said. “Anything lower would probably be disappointing.”

The test then will be whether viewers like what they see. All the cross-promotion in the world, Baxter stresses, is worth little if the content falls flat.

Melissa Hey, the head of TV at media buyer OMD, is also impressed with Nine’s post-Games programming offerings — though she doesn’t expect Big Brother to match The Block ‘s success earlier this year in Nine’s 7pm timeslot.

The Block was scoring 1.5, 1.6 million viewers and that’s really high for that time,” she said. “Big Brother should be closer to 1 million.”

As for the overall ratings contest, Hey says she expects the rest of the year to be extremely competitive between Nine and Seven.

She predicts Seven will come out on top as an overall ratings winner — excluding the Olympics period — but says Nine is a chance of winning in key, advertiser-friendly demographics.