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With the impressive dedication that NBC and its top advertisers have taken to the internet for this Olympic games, some have gone so far to dub the 2010 Winter Olympics the "Social Games." But there is one small snag in NBC's rush to move toward real-time. The network still isn't showing video of major sporting events in real time — online or often even on television.
In the 2008 games, it was hard enough to supress live commentary online. But now, with Olympians, viewers and even NBC keeping up a running Olympic commentary, it's even harder to hold onto precious video content until prime time. It also doesn't help that NBC is giving spoilers with its live blog coverage.
The network is focused on keeping the main event video in prime time because that's when it can guarantee the largest audience for advertisers. But as events happen during the day, the winners and losers are leaking online, meaning that those events have less of a draw for fans.
One example happened today, when U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn raced in her best event: the women's downhill race. The NBC live blog writes (spoiler alert):
"There's gold in them thar' hills, it seems, with Vonn grabbing the 3th gold medal for Team U.S.A. at these Games, and her very first. She joins moguls freeskier Hannah Kearney and boardercross rider Seth Wescott. Likely, this afternoon halfpipe superstar Shaun White will grab his gold, putting a lovely golden tint on today's tally. Mancuso's silver, as well as Bode Miller's bronze from the men's downhill on Monday help anchor the U.S.A. almost at the top of the heap for medal standings."
Viewers hoping to watch these events will have to wait until 8P on the east coast (and three hours later when prime time hits the west coast), which has caused a lot of consternation online. For viewers interested in the sporting aspect of the games, learning the results ahead of time takes a whole lot of the fun out of the games.
But that dynamic is hard to avoid, as NBC is still focusing its attention on television this year. While Visa, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, General Electric and the International Olympic Committee are all making major social and real-time pushes, whether it be with via blogs, Twitter, Facebook or other venues, the real money still lies in cornering the television audience between 8P and 10P.
According to PaidContent:
"NBC Sports will stream more than 400 hours of live event coverage on NBCOlympics.com compared to one hockey game during the Winter Games in Torino. In addition, NBCOlympics.com will offer more than 1,000 hours of full-event replays of all 15 sports."
NBC is planning to lose money on this year's games (somewhere in the ballpark of $200 million), but the network has been paying close attention to consumer habits in watching the games, and plans to track the various places where viewers look for content with new technology this year.
But creating a strategy that relies on social media while delaying the content people want to see could hobble the network's efforts.
Not to mention the fact that NBC is not allowing video sharing or embedding. If you want to watch Olympic videos online — highlights or otherwise — you'll have to go to NBCOlympics.com. Online viewing is limited to consumers who already pay for video via satellite, telecom or cable, and those who can watch are also limited to "1,000 hours of video on demand and 400 hours of live competition streaming to users who already pay for video via satellite, telecom or cable" according to Paid Content.
Still, initial numbers for NBC have been good. In the first two days of the Winter Games this year, traffic was up 350% from the last winter events in Torino. There were 4.5 million uniques in that time this week, versus 1.02 million during the same period in 2006. The site also delivered 4.5 million video streams, up almost 700% from Torino's streaming.
The NBC and AT&T sponsored iPhone app has been one of Apple's top five free downloads all week.
That said, it's especially hard to track the success of a campaign when there are no alternatives to compare it with. In 2006, there was little video footage available online. In addition, NBC is using autoplay on its videos now, so it's hard to tell how many of those streams online are on purpose.
But the increases also have to do with the passage of time. Every successive Olympic games there is more content online. Combine that with the fact that every year more consumers go online for information, it would be pretty impossible to see online viewership numbers decline. But that's not to say that there couldn't always have been more available.
in 2008, before the Summer Olympics, Dick Ebersol explained NBC's prime time strategy:
"Strangely enough, in every Olympics that I have done, going back to 1992, every Olympics, the audience on the West Coast over-indexes against all the other regions in the United States. They love sports so much, and they know when they want to watch it, and that's in prime time."But the rules are different now. Especially considering the constant stream of real-time information coming out about the games. If audiences really do want to watch the games during prime time, many of them can tape them to watch at their own convenience.
It's NBC that doesn't want that happening. However, considering that even NBC is spoliing the results for viewers, it hardly seems fair to stack the cards against live viewing.
With the Super Bowl eariler this month, advertisers learned that online can increase television airing of commercials impressively. According to USAToday:
"Coca-Cola says that while 100 million saw its Super Bowl ads air once, online interactions with the ads now number more than 500 million. The Olympics will be no different."
But with so many events happening at such diverse times, the Olympics have a much harder time fighting the pull of the internet. Each year it becomes increasingly difficult for NBC to control the pipe that delivers Olympic info.
And this year, NBC is having some trouble reigning in its own online coverage of the Olympics. Just today, a tweet from U.S. ski team member Jake Zamansky appeared on NBC's own site:
"Can't wait to see how bad NBC covers ski racing today."