NBC: Twitter Beefs No Match for the ‘Silent Majority’

Huge TV, digital audience outweighs tape-delay concerns

NBC on Thursday offered a first look at some of its newly mined Olympics usage research, and as has been the case with the prime-time TV ratings, the digital stats are trending ahead of the Beijing Games.

According to NBC research president Alan Wurtzel, 28 million people have visited NBCOlympics.com since Friday’s Opening Ceremony, marking an 8 percent increase versus the analogous period four years ago.

Thus far NBC has served up 64 million total video streams, which translates to a 182 percent improvement from the first five days of the Beijing Olympics. Per comScore data, 45 percent of the streams, or 29 million, were live.

As of last night, the single most-streamed event of the London Olympics was the women’s gymnastics team final, which was held on Tuesday. Some 1.5 million users watched the U.S. team take the gold in real time.

It’s worth noting that the 2008 Summer Games were held in the medieval period before the dawn of the iPad, which was introduced in April 2010. Moreover, smartphone penetration was a paltry 15 percent four years ago; with the rise of Google’s Android, that number has soared to 47 percent as of Q2 2012.

To date, Wurtzel estimates that roughly 60 percent of the London online video streams were accessed via a laptop or personal computer, while the remainder was served to tablets and smartphones. NBC’s Olympics apps for the Apple and Android platforms have been downloaded 6 million times since the start of the Summer Games.

The digital download was provided shortly after Nielsen released the overnight TV ratings for Wednesday prime time. In the 56 metered markets, NBC on Aug. 1 notched a 20.1 rating/33 share, up from a 19.6/32 overnight in the comparable Beijing period. (Update: Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings data, NBC on Wednesday delivered an average 30.8 million viewers from 8-11:26 p.m. EDT, up 11 percent versus 27.7 million four years ago.) This marks the sixth straight night NBC has outperformed the 2008 Summer Olympics, a streak that continues to surprise even network higher-ups. 

Ratings for the 2012 Games are now up 10 percent versus Beijing, where the time-zone difference allowed for a far more comprehensive schedule of live prime-time coverage.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with our performance,” said NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus. “We are over-delivering on every measurement, and in every daypart on the NBC broadcast network and on cable. Our advertisers and affiliates are very pleased as well.”

Lazarus allowed that he doesn’t necessarily expect that London will eclipse Beijing on every single day, but such a streak is largely immaterial. Given the current state of the TV ratings, incremental ad dollars should continue to add up; as such, Lazarus reiterated NBC’s projection that it will break even on the Games.

(In addition to the $1 billion in ad inventory NBC booked before the Olympics began on July 27, the network is now selling airtime that it had held back for make-goods. The cost of the average 30-second spot in prime time is around $725,000, although advertisers who slip in after others have shouldered the burden of risk can expect to pay a premium.)

The price of getting onboard the media event of the summer may be justified by reach—thus far, 168 million viewers have tuned in to NBC’s prime-time London coverage—and impact. Per Nielsen IAG data, spots that air in the Olympics enjoy a 96 percent higher message recall and a 67 percent brand recall.

The NBC Sports chief acknowledged that the network is monitoring the sentiments of the “very vocal minority” that has taken to Twitter to protest the live-streaming/tape-delay programming strategy. In regards to the production error that led to NBC airing a spoiler promo immediately before a medal event, Lazarus said redundancies have been implemented to safeguard against a similar type of glitch reoccurring.

Lazarus added that while “not everyone is going to be happy” with NBC’s Olympics coverage, the numbers speak for themselves. “The overwhelming majority of users are voting with their clickers and mouses,” he said. “The silent majority has been with us.”

Ultimately, for all the agita vented about the pre-packaged nature of the nightly broadcasts, NBC’s research suggests that the word “spoiler” may be something of a misnomer. In a survey of 3,000 viewers conducted on Sunday, 67 percent of those who said they knew the result of a prime-time event would still tune in for the tape-delayed broadcast later that same day.