Jeff Zucker may have upgraded his assessment of online ad revenue, but that doesn’t mean his network is ready to tap the digital space for all its worth.

The NBC Universal chief used to say that he wasn’t ready to sacrifice
“analog dollars” for “digital pennies.” He’s since gotten more charitable towards online revenue — saying that it now garners “digital dimes” — but that doesn’t mean he’s interested in collecting all of it.

Speaking to Paid Content’s Staci Kramer, Zucker outlined NBC’s approach to the Olympics: “We windowed everything. We didn’t stream our primetime coverage
simultaneously, which would be akin to streaming the Super Bowl

Zucker worries a lot about online
cannibalizing analog content. And that makes sense. As yet, revenue
numbers online do not come close to matching television earnings.

NBC is not going to sacrifice its television ad dollars to stream content online any time soon. Asked about the benefits of streaming future live sporting events, Zucker responds: “I don’t think there is a
model that exists right now that would show that. I wouldn’t want to
devalue the price of the Olympics or the Super Bowl or whatever it is.”

Fair enough. NBC siloed all of the major sporting events from the 2008 Olympics in primetime. And with over $10 billion in hand from Olympics advertising this year, it’s understandable why Zucker is hesitant to part with live premium events on network television.

The more questionable choice is what Zucker and NBC are doing with the rest of their sports coverage.

When Davis asks him if there are things NBC could be streaming that the network is not, Zucker says: “We’ve been aggressive in this respect. Not off the top of my head.”

But there is plenty of content that NBC holds onto. It’s just not currently making them any money.

For the Olympics specifically, viewers interested in smaller, niche sporting events had little recourse to watch them. Olympics programming on television has always been limited to the hours available on the networks, but the Internet provides limitless space for niche programming, and NBC left those events on the floor.

But small sporting events
with loyal followings could have a place online. And for a price.

Chris Andersen, speaking at the Disruptive By Design conference in New York this week, pointed to this when he said that media companies can make money through a mixed model of free and paid content:

“The head of the curve will be free and the tail of the curve will be paid…People are more willing to pay for niche content because they realize how specialized it is.”

Events like ping pong, sho put, and synchronized swimming might not draw large audiences on television that can be monetized, but if NBC had put more of those events online — and possibly even charged for access — the long tail could have brought in money that otherwise lay fallow.

sporting events, there are dedicated fans desperate for content — and
willing to pay a price for it. But while there’s not time for extra footage,
practice, warmups and interviews in primetime for events like the
Olympics, the SuperBowl, or the World Series, it could easily find a place online. Producing extra footage would be low cost to networks, but especially with the Olympics, the content was already there.

Online advertising still lacks the impact of selling television ads against a primetime audience, but content that won’t see the light of day on network television? Refusing to cash in on those dimes just doesn’t make sense.

Image: PaidContent