Op-Ed: Missed Opportunities at the Olympics

By Kiran Aditham 

HUGE marketing strategist lead Josh Seifert returns with his monthly submission to this here site. This time, our scribe discusses, what else, the Olympics and NBC’s coverage of the event. Without further ado…

Over the past week, there’s been no shortage of conversation about NBC’s Olympic coverage, most notably the lack of live television coverage for high-profile events. Time and AdAge have both pointed out that higher than expected television ratings have actually made the coverage more successful than predicted. This is great news for NBC, but given the company was willing to accept losses of as much as $200 million on their investment to secure the broadcast rights in the name of building their brand, you would be forgiven for assuming that significant attention would be paid to ensuring NBC’s digital experiences enhanced the brand as well.

NBC’s television coverage centers on the lowest common denominator for advertisers: the average primetime watching family. While the primetime coverage may be perfectly satisfying for that audience, surely this is not the digitally savvy, opinion-elite audience that NBC needs to connect with in order to concretely advance its brand. If complete live coverage is your thing, it’s offered online, but only if you’re already a cable subscriber. The obvious irony is of course that many of those who watch online do so because they don’t want cable. The Olympics should have been an opportunity for NBC to position itself as a digital leader by meeting these people’s needs.

While NBC’s Olympics website gets an honorable mention by ReadWriteWeb, it was surpassed by the online experiences created by the New York Times, The Guardian, and the BBC. Its two iOS applications, NBC Olympics and NBC Olympics Live Extra, have been rewarded with 2.5 and 2 stars App Store ratings respectively. Every section within a webpage or mobile app seems tohave a different sponsor. I’ve seen Citibank’s mobile deposit ad so many times that I finally get the message: “Citibank is at parity with Chase.” Congratulations!

While this advertiser-centric approach to creating digital experiences may work in the short-term to generate revenue, it does nothing to advance the NBC brand in digital. If you’re prepared to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in the name of building your brand, failing to deliver in the channels of the future seems neglectful. This is succinctly captured in the meme comparing NASA’s ability to stream “live” video from another planet, 155 million miles away, and NBC’s inability to show live coverage from thirty five hundred miles away.

To be fair to NBC, they certainly tried to get it right. But to be truly successful in the future, all media companies need to expand their thinking beyond just viewership, eyeballs and demographics and start considering the broader context of how and why viewers are accessing content across different devices in different locations.

Consumer behavior and preferences will ultimately drive industry success in the long-term. When users can’t watch the Olympics streaming online because they don’t have cable, they don’t give up trying to watch and subscribe. First, it reinforces their negative feelings toward NBC. Then it’s used as supporting evidence in expressing their opinion to everyone they know on social media channels. Finally, those who are truly enterprising figure out how to pretend they’re in the U.K. and just watch the BBC coverage. This kind of behavior isn’t relegated just to the Olympics, users are increasingly tired of the artificial barriers erected by companies in order to preserve status quo business models.