Five days into the Olympics and here is what we know: NBC is pretty consistently killing it with its TV ratings, beating its Beijing numbers four nights in a row. As it turns out, the network will actually break even after initially projecting a $200 million loss.
Indeed, nobody can deny that the ledgers at NBC are looking mighty nice as of now, yet while the TV performance data has been easily accessible and widely disseminated since Monday, one crucial element appears to be missing: just how are NBC's digital audience numbers are shaping up?
Heading into the Summer Games the refrain was constant—'the first truly digital Olympics!' But through the first five days of competition, NBC's taken a constant pounding over its tape-delay-strategy, and the shortfalls of its streaming product. That's why it's so shocking how little data has been released on how many folks are bothering to stream the games. Is the Web more trackable than TV?
NBC appears to have responded to the digital echo chamber with an 'I'm sorry, but we can't hear you over the sound of our cash registers,' response, perhaps predictable—even understandable—for a large media conglomerate where the primary mission is to make money. But perhaps a better way to silence critics would be to release some figures detailing just how successful NBC's digital platform has been…unless, of course, the numbers aren't as rosy as they'd hoped.
The New York Times did report a handful of early numbers on Monday: NBC recorded 7 million streams on Saturday, though no word on the number of unique viewers. It remains puzzling why NBC hasn't said more (NBCOlympics.com site views, video views, time on site, etc) given how painstakingly the company collects and tracks its data. Even more odd—comScore and Nielsen aren't reporting any traffic numbers either. Why are the digital media industries leading third party researchers remaining silent?
In an age when site metrics are monitored obsessively, there would seem to be no logistical reason to release digital metrics so slowly. Sure, concerned parties can always attempt to extrapolate some of the vague social data provided by NBC's Olympics page, but it is hard to know how something as emphemeral as a Tweet translates into time on NBC's Olympics site. It takes far less effort to hit 'Like' on NBC's Olympics' Facebook page or retweet an @NBCOlympics tweet than it does hopping onto NBC's Olympics site and authenticating your cable account to watch a live event.
It is possible NBC is biding its time and bundling their digital numbers to gain a larger sample size, but questions inevitably arise as the company stays mum. Could the lack of numbers indicate that folks are going the route of Marketplace's Heidi Moore and watching the games via The BBC livestream with a proxy service? The complicated nature of proxy services and VPN technologies render that outcome unlikely, but the lack of transparency opens NBC up to such questions.
The mystery may soon be lifted. NBC has scheduled a conference call tomorrow (August 2nd) during which digital figures should be discussed. The question remains though: why wait so long to disclose? Often, such silence is an indicator of lackluster performance. But with TV numbers so good, maybe the real reason is that NBC just doesn't need to care as much.