SBD/August 13, 2012/Olympics

NBC Execs Defend Broadcast Model, Say Live Streaming May Have Helped Draw Viewers

Lazarus feels digital streaming of events helped drive interest in primetime broadcast
NBC has “a major success story to tell with their historic television ratings" for the London Games, and the event will be "one of the five most-watched events of alltime,” according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. When the final numbers are determined, the Olympics likely will be either the most-watched in history or second most-watched to the '08 Beijing Games. NBC also expects "to make a small profit on these Games" after it was thought they would be a money loser. NBC Sports Chair Mark Lazarus in a wide-ranging interview cited several factors for the net's success, including the "tonnage of NBC's coverage across platforms and the success of U.S. athletes in London.” Lazarus said, “We have given the consumer access on every platform and allowed them to be part of it. So they've been given the full Olympic experience and that's one reason. I think the consumers at home like to see coronations and the U.S. team has performed very well.” He added, "There's a passion for the Games that ... is undeniable." NBC execs can make the argument that the ratings “ultimately justify time shifting the opening ceremonies (which drew 40.7 million viewers) and major events in gymnastics, swimming and track.” But NBC “would be wise to heed some of the criticism from what Lazarus called a ‘loud minority’" and air some events live during the day. Lazarus was asked if he would "consider moderating NBC's strategy for the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro when a high-profile event occurred on the weekend.” Deitsch said, “Why not show the men's 100 meters (run last Sunday afternoon) on one of NBC's networks, and still replay it in primetime later that night with all of the network's trimmings?” Lazarus said, “It is a risk that we have to calculate. I do believe it is a risk. The digital experience has taught us that people watching on those devices are interested in watching, and the research has shown that if you watch online or mobile or a tablet that you are more interested to watch it in the evening. I don't know if that will hold true if you have seen it on television” (SI.com, 8/10).

STREAMING LIKELY HELPED MORE THAN HURT: NBC London Olympics Exec Producer Jim Bell said the party line going into the Games was that the net "didn’t think live streaming would hurt prime time." and if anything, it "helped prime time."  Bell said, "We took a big, bold swing. It worked out in itself and helped the foundation of the house -- prime time.” USA TODAY’s Michael Hiestand writes prior to the Games, NBC’s “public comments were vaguely optimistic about whether its London ratings would top its Beijing numbers.” Bell said, “I thought no way. No way! Honest to God in my heart of hearts. Nobody, not anybody in NBC and probably nobody outside, thought it would match Beijing.” Hiestand notes Bell “won’t rule out that NBC, which has the Games through 2020, might someday show more events live and then air them again in prime time.” But Bell said that primetime “remains a very important property.” Bell: “It’s important to re-emphasize that a lot of the viewing public doesn’t know about these sports” (USA TODAY, 8/13). In Tampa, Tom Jones writes no matter how NBC covered these Games, “there was going to be criticism.” Going forward, the network's “best philosophy should be this: When in doubt, show it live.” And if “it's a big enough event, show it again in prime time” (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 8/13).

SOCIAL MEDIA EXPERIMENT: In L.A., Mary McNamara writes NBC “did more than broadcast an international sporting event -- it conducted a grand and sweeping media experiment that will have repercussions in programming and coverage for years to come.” The multi-layered system of coverage -- “live Web streaming and NBC's family of cable channels during the day with certain events held for prime time viewing -- appeared not just complicated but greedy: We will show you the events you most want to see long after they have occurred because that's how we make money.” While delivering the Olympics live via other platforms, NBC “used its prime-time coverage to curate the Games, to create an Olympic experience that both echoed the past -- when families actually gathered 'round the electronic hearth -- and visualized the future, in which the entertainment value of televised theater is considered separately from the twists of its plot lines.” But the “shortcomings of craft are not as important as the long-term implications of intent: to give the viewers the best of both worlds” (L.A. TIMES, 8/13). USA TODAY’s Robert Bianco offered some tips to NBC to “make 2016 a happier experience all around.” It “wouldn’t hurt sportscasters to remember that every defeat is not tragic, every victory is not historic, and every athlete is not heroic.” In Rio, NBC should “hire an actual Brazilian instead, an expert to introduce us to our largest and most populous southern neighbor.” And “keep up the good work.” Bianco: “That’s not sarcasm. We can take for granted how many difficult things NBC does well” (USA TODAY, 8/13).
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