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If you're an avid user of popular social media sites, there's a decent chance you've been exposed to the significant criticism that's been leveled at NBC over its tape-delayed coverage of the Olympics.

While the media giant is live streaming events online, NBC's rationale for airing the biggest events on a broadcast tape delay is simple: it can earn far more advertising dollars by capturing prime time eyeballs. That's important given that NBC isn't guaranteed to make a profit from the Olympics given the costs associated with airing them.

Critics aren't convinced. In today's always-on, always-connected world, information moves more rapidly than ever and many consumers expect real-time access to media. Tape delays are, to them, an outdated, unacceptable proposition, one that a forward-thinking media company hoping to remain successful would never stand by.

But are the critics right?

The apparent answer to that question may surprise you because, if you're a numbers person, NBC's tape delay isn't having a negative impact on viewership. In fact, things are great according to NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus, who has revealed that ratings for the London Games are significantly higher than those for the Beijing Games of 2008. Prime time ratings are currently running 10% above Beijing, which is particularly notable given the fact that some of the most attractive events in Beijing were broadcast live in prime time, as MediaPost's David Goetzl points out.

So how is NBC seemingly winning with a strategy that, to many, seems so lacking? The simple answer: the assumptions some of NBC's critics have made about tape delayed coverage may not be correct. According to NBC's own research, the spoiler effect isn't keeping would-be viewers from watching events when they're aired in prime time; in fact, some viewers are actually more interested in watching a delayed broadcast when they know the results.

NBC admits there's room for improvement

NBC acknowledges that its coverage hasn't been perfect, and that there's much room for improvement and innovation. "We’re trying new things and we knew it wouldn’t be perfect and we said that before the Games," Lazarus stated during a conference call with reporters.

But for those who still aren't convinced that NBC is taking steps forward, there's good news: Lazarus says NBC is focused on "analyzing everything" and "really understanding the numbers and how our audience is consuming" content. In other words, it's collecting data and analyzing it to drive key decisions. Which is essentially what digital innovators do in everything from marketing to content creation.

So like where data and analysis leads NBC or not, the media company's data-driven approach should be something many of its most vocal digital critics should be able to get behind.

Patricio Robles

Published 3 August, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (1)

Andreas Pouros

Andreas Pouros, Co-founder & COO at Greenlight

The conflict between delivering an optimal user experience and effective advertising on television has been present for years. What the NBC has done though is put the balance too far on the side of the advertiser, diminishing the TV experience for the user. They may say that the time delay hasn't been negative for the viewer but imagine if yesterdays 100m had been time delayed? It would have ruined the dramatic power of that event because everyone would have known the outcome ahead of it being broadcast. I'm an advertiser and a consumer and the consumer side of me is more annoyed than my advertiser side is happy.

This is also part of a broader trend that I really resent. For example, Panasonic's new TV set shows a big banner ad as soon as you turn it on, i.e. delivered by Panasonic, not the broadcaster and not with user consent.

Suddenly, things like Apple TV, Google TV, etc, seem like potential knights in shining armour.

about 4 years ago

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