NBC’s Online Olympics Coverage Raises Hackles

Ad placement, streaming woes plague coverage

When you pay $2.2 billion for something, you expect to be able to do what you want with it. When you broadcast the Olympics, however, there's a certain lack of sympathy among viewers who understandably believe that your multibillion-dollar property belongs to the world.

This is the trouble at NBCUniversal, which shelled out that staggering amount of money for the 2010 and 2012 Olympic games, sold $1 billion in ads, and hoped that it could continue to get traction in the Nielsen ratings among U.S. viewers who had to wait until prime time to watch all their most-anticipated events.

But with the world getting smaller every day, an increasingly large part of of the Olympic viewership isn't interested in waiting for prime time so that NBC can shore up its ratings numbers, and the Peacock is trying to help them out with its new streaming offerings, including a sophisticated partnership with YouTube that allows the network to stream multiple events live.

If only it worked as described.

The streaming service has been plagued by feeds of events that aren't happening, feeds that pixellate or freeze, and are interrupted by ads every five minutes, whether or not a gymnast is hovering in mid-leap. The latter is particularly troublesome—the streaming site allows viewers to watch one feed in a large window with live commentary and sound and one in a silent, smaller window; when the ad comes up, it gets played in the large window and the small window goes blank, so there's no chance whatsoever of your ignoring the advertisement in favor of your favorite event.

This has led pretty directly to a Twitter-storm of outrage—#NBCfail, #NBCsucks, and a Twitter account (@NBCDelayed) devoted entirely to mocking the lateness of the results. For example:


For what it's worth, advertisers don't seem to be getting blamed—no one is leaping to condemn, say, Duracell or AT&T for interrupting their Olympics coverage—so as unpopular as the system in place may be, it's certainly an effective way to pin viewers down and make them watch advertisements.

The streaming service also requires authentication (meaning you have to sign in using your cable account information and can't watch if you just use the Web and a pair of rabbit ears), a move pretty clearly designed to increase subscriptions at NBCU's cable partners, and probably an effective olive branch to distributors cheesed off about retrans fees and bundling. But it's also splitting the Web into two camps: one that's forever complaining about the ad-supported, MSO-approved website, and another that's extolling the virtues—in no less a publication than The Guardian—of using a pirated signal to watch the Olympics on the BBC.

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