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NBC chief Jeff Zucker has made it clear that he doesn't want to share major sporting events on the web in real time, because of the dollars that will be lost from broadcast television advertising.

But that doesn't mean the network isn't interested in seeing where its digital dimes could be going. This year for the Vancouver Winter Games, NBC plans to track consumer consumption across channels.

During the Summer Olympics, NBC a smattering of Olympic fans a mobile-phone-based monitoring system that tracked their Olympic consumption across TV, digital and mobile. This year, the network is using equipment created with Arbitron, Omniture and ComScore to track Olympic viewing on TV and the web and then use those numbers to predict broader population trends.

According to AdAge:

Data will also track the kind of video people watch online, even noting whether the selections are something being watched for the first time or if they represent a repeat view of an event already watched on TV.

NBC could use some of the results to prod advertisers to spend more money on web advertising -- if research reveals that such web advertising helps bolster recall and likeability for ads in rotation on TV.

With television advertising and viewership in freefall, it makes sense that NBC would be interested in bringing advertisers up to speed on the web.

Despite prediictions of high viewership for the winter games (NBC Universal chief Alan Wurtzel thinks as many as 200 million viewers will tune in), General Electric executives noted last week that the broadcast could lose as much as $250 million due to the high fees networks pay to air big-ticket events.

But also, the network itself is not convinced that the web is ready for big league content.

Livestreaming a major sporting event like the Super Bowl presents a difficult problem for the networks. Collecting an audience into one place — television — helps sell advertising. Even if they can get more viewers by showing the game online, the advertising model is not set up to take advantage of those eyeballs completely.

But the Olympics are a special case scenario for the networks, and prove why the internet can help broaden the possibilities for live video. There are simply too many events to broadcast on television. And there are small subsets of viewers who are committed to those events. But now they have to go to the events to see them in person, or wait for reports of results. If NBC put minor sporting events on its website — live — and charged for access, they could bypass (or add to) advertising and recoup the cost of streaming while adding a few dimes to the coffers without competing with broadcast.

Wurtzel says that big events like the Olympics give networks the opportunity to "accelerate" new consumer behavior, because viewers are willing to test out new formats to get to in demand content.

Monitoring different consumption behaviors is a step in the right direction to sorting out big digital strategy shifts, but NBC still won't find out this year how much its missing out on by preventing viewers access to many events they still can't watch.

Image: NBC

Meghan Keane

Published 29 January, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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