After London, NBC goes all in on Rio streaming
NBC’s tape-delay strategy worked well for the better part of two decades, as the network’s prime-time slot during the Olympics consistently drew the biggest ratings on television.
But four years ago in London, NBC found that the presence of its online streams did not cut into the TV network’s prime-time ratings. That caused the network’s relatively new owner, Comcast, to chase a different strategy for next month’s Games: It won’t hold anything back. Comcast’s top executives believe that its plan to stream 6,000 hours of Olympic competition — including streams that will compete with the prime-time show — ultimately will be a marketing campaign to draw more viewers to prime time.
|NBCUniversal’s Steve Burke (left) and Comcast’s Brian Roberts foresee big ratings gains.
Burke recalled a moment at the 2012 Olympics in London — NBC’s first with Comcast as an owner — when NBC tried to ignore a Michael Phelps race that occurred outside of prime time.
“Everybody knew that Michael Phelps had won, but you would turn on NBC and nobody would mention it,” Burke said. “You can’t hide from people. We’ve learned that you’re better off exposing everything.”
Next month’s Games in Rio will be the first “live” Olympics since Comcast bought NBC in 2011, meaning that the Games are taking place in roughly the same time zone as the U.S. As such, many of the top events will be produced live in prime time, which should help NBC’s ratings. But NBC also is confident that the network’s prime-time television ratings will be stronger because of all of the streaming that’s planned.
“Our theory is that if you widen the top of the funnel, more comes through the funnel, and the prime-time audience will be the largest audience in television history,” said Brian Roberts, Comcast chairman and CEO. “We’ll see. The advertisers believe that — we’re up 30-40 percent in advertising since London.”
Burke believes NBC’s streaming plans also are effective in bringing younger viewers to the Games. He referenced the London Olympics, which he said registered the biggest prime-time ratings increases in the younger demographics. Through deals with Snapchat and BuzzFeed, in addition to its streaming plans, Burke believes Rio is set for even bigger gains.
COMCAST CHAIRMAN AND CEO
Overall, the number of people watching individual streams has been relatively small — most came in well below 1 million users in London. “Numbers will be well below a level where you would worry about the effectiveness of the streaming,” Burke said.
As the country’s biggest cable operator, Comcast sees ancillary benefits from streaming the Games. Roberts said many new developments on Comcast’s X1 platform come as a result of its Olympic ties. “It’s pushing our team to the max,” Roberts said. “I’m hearing the right amount of stress and angst.”
Roberts also expects the Olympics to help bring viewers to other parts of NBC’s schedule, like “The Tonight Show” and “Today” show.
“What can you do with that platform for a company that has film and theme parks and cable,” Roberts said.