SBD/July 16, 2012/Media

NBC Calls New Olympic Digital Strategy Its "Billion-Dollar Lab"

NBC is hoping social media usage will drive viewers to watch events live
The London Games will be “a monumental experiment for network television in the digital age,” and NBC has called the Olympics its “billion-dollar lab,” according to Christopher Stewart of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. NBC execs have decided to “do away with the old formula of keeping big events under wraps until its prime-time evening broadcast.” NBCUniversal President & CEO Steve Burke said, “There are traditionalists who say, ‘This will cannibalize us.’” Burke is “banking that the chatter at the water cooler, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and the like, will encourage viewers to tune into the network’s taped broadcast that night.” Burke: “If someone is ambitious enough to get up at six in the morning to see the 10,000 meter race walk, and they see it and it’s good, they’ll tell 10 friends ‘You should watch the race walk at prime time.’ It’s hard for me to believe that someone is going to watch streaming and not be a booster of what they saw more times than not.” Stewart noted the coverage change was “cemented at a meeting of top Comcast and NBC executives in New York on a spring Sunday last year.” NBC Sports Group Chair Mark Lazarus, who led the meeting, said, “We should commit to running every event live.” The May 22, 2011 meeting at NBC in Manhattan’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza “stretched for hours.” Former NBC Sports Group Chair Dick Ebersol “had resigned his post three days earlier.” Comcast hopes the Olympics “will help revitalize NBC’s prime time schedule which has lagged behind in last place for years.” Comcast is also using the Olympics “to drive adoption of a three-year-old effort known as TV Everywhere.” In addition, Comcast hopes the coverage “will elevate its newly formed NBC Sports Group.” NBC is “prepared to fight any online piracy that would dilute viewership.” Lazarus said, “I don’t pretend everything will be perfect. But we have the opportunity and obligation to try to learn as much as we can” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 7/14).

ROOT FOR THE HOME TEAM: NEWSWEEK’s Howard Kurtz writes Lazarus is “unashamed to be rooting for the red, white, and blue.” Lazarus said that the Olympics for an American audience are “imbued with a strong dose of ‘nationalism,’ where ‘people gather around to cheer for their country.’” Lazarus: “We hope the U.S. team performs well. People get excited about that.” Kurtz notes the excitement is “good for ratings.” Lazarus said NBC’s job during the Games is to “build people up.” His perspective is “not how journalists generally view their mission,” but NBC “seems committed to making this a feel-good event.” NBC London Olympics Exec Producer Jim Bell said, “People want hope, and they want positive stories” (NEWSWEEK, 7/16 issue).
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