SBJ/Dec. 16-22, 2013/Olympics

NBC, Yahoo to partner for Sochi

Deal ends years of battling over online Games traffic

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NBC Olympics and Yahoo will partner to promote video highlights and live streamed video of the Sochi Games, ending years of competition and public sniping over what outlet drove the most traffic during an Olympic Games.

SBJ Podcast:
Tripp Mickle and Eric Fisher discuss the NBC-Yahoo Olympic deal, whether the two sides will be able to get along during the Sochi Games and whether the partnership will last past 2014.

The agreement extends the content, promotional and distribution partnership that NBC and Yahoo signed a year ago and announced to great fanfare on “Sunday Night Football.” That alliance helped Yahoo Sports-NBC Sports Digital clinch the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in the monthly comScore multiplatform reach rankings of U.S. sports sites throughout the past year. But the partnership notably excluded the Olympics, in part because NBC and Yahoo historically competed for traffic during the Games.

Under the new deal, NBCOlympics.com and Yahoo will remain independent and continue to sell their own inventory, but link to each other’s stories and videos in order to boost each other’s traffic during the Sochi Games. Yahoo Sports and NBC Sports staff will contribute to Olympic news and digital segments that air on NBCOlympics.com, and NBC Olympics will integrate Yahoo Search, Flickr and Tumblr into its website during the Games.

“We have had a great year on the sports side,” said Rick Cordella, NBC Sports Digital’s senior vice president and general manager. “It makes all the sense in the world that we match the uniqueness of what Yahoo can do with the uniqueness of what NBC can do. It’s a great partnership that we hope to see manifest itself in later Olympics.”

For NBC, the deal is designed to boost video views during the Olympics, so that it can meet its guarantees to advertisers who bought digital inventory during the Sochi Games. Its site, NBCOlympics.com, will offer more than 2,000 hours of live Winter Olympics video coverage over 18 days in February, a first for the Winter Games.

For Yahoo, the partnership bolsters its existing Olympics coverage by allowing it to link directly to highlights and live video on NBCOlympics.com, a move expected to help Yahoo attract more visitors.

“This is a peanut-butter-and-jelly deal,” said Ken Fuchs, vice president global media and commerce at Yahoo. “It brings to our users the one thing we haven’t had [video] around the data and stories we tell. They can jump in and watch live and watch highlights in ways they couldn’t before. That’s a very unique thing for us.”

The partnership was approved by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus.

As early as February of this year, a full year before the start of the Sochi Games, NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel confirmed negotiations of a potential Olympics partnership. But as talks dragged on through the summer and fall without resolution, uncertainty grew over whether an agreement could be reached in time to deploy for Sochi. Last winter, Zenkel had said a decision would have needed to be made by the summer in order to execute properly. But as talks continued, that artificial deadline was extended.

Some NBC executives harbored reservations about working with Yahoo because the company had boasted in press releases during the four previous Olympics (2006-12) that it drove more traffic than NBCOlympics.com, particularly during the high-profile Beijing Summer Games of 2008.

NBC worked with MSN to boost traffic during the Beijing Games and partnered with YouTube in an effort to improve its digital reach during the 2012 London Games. But the company, which streamed all Olympic competition live for the first time in 2012, found that most of its 2 billion page views and 159 million video views came from NBCOlympics.com and not YouTube. As a result, it considered operating its site for the first time without partnering with a portal.

Cordella said NBC’s and Yahoo’s competition during years past wasn’t an issue in negotiations, particularly as the sports partnership grew during the course of this year. He added that he expects NBCOlympics.com and Yahoo will still compete to draw users to their own respective properties during the Sochi Games, but the hope is that making video available on both NBCOlympics.com and Yahoo will boost traffic for both sites.

“We’re doing this for our collective audience,” Cordella said. “The ultimate beneficiary is the consumer.”

Outside of the Olympics, the NBC Sports-Yahoo partnership has generated an extensive amount of content integration, particularly around events such as college football’s National Signing Day and the creation of the daily “SportsDash” sports talk program that appears on NBC Sports Network and both partners’ websites.

Similar content integration is expected to happen during the Olympics. Yahoo will embed some of its staff in Stamford, Conn., where NBC’s digital team is based, to work directly on that.

“We expect to have a historic level of interest for Sochi,” Cordella said. “You think about this compared to Vancouver [in 2010], the iPad wasn’t even out yet back then.”

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