NBC has been getting hammered on its Olympics coverage this year. It’s so bad there is even a Twitter hashtag, #nbcfail. Mostly this controversy has revolved around NBC holding back showing the most popular events live until their primetime show every evening. By that time, many people already know the results as a result of Twitter, Facebook, and the Internet in general.
The big problem here is that the Internet, especially Twitter, has become a real-time medium. NBC is technically capable of real-time coverage but the Olympics business model is hopelessly not. This business model which was built in the 70′s does not take into account the Internet or any real-time technologies. NBC has tried to augment the model by providing a streaming service this year but that service is cumbersome, requiring a login and an account with an approved cable provider. There have also been reports of many technical problems with the stream not performing well enough.
Despite all this, ratings for this summer’s Olympics have been very good. People love the games and will watch because they have no choice, even if they are unhappy about it. But so much of the excitement has been sucked out of the primetime show I wonder how many more years this can go on. Part of this is an advertising problem. The old Olympic broadcast model is to hold back the best programming so you can collect a massive audience in primetime and then reap large ad fees for that primetime show. With the real-time Internet, however, it’s not so easy to collect a large audience at one time. If the Olympics broadcast matches the real-time nature of the Internet, viewing will be spread out over a longer time period. This is where the advertising business model has to change.
Rather than buying one primetime show with the big audience, advertisers will have to buy the Olympics as an entire event. It’s still the same massive audience, just spread out more. As a result, the ads will have to be spread out more. I don’t have the magic formula for all this, I am just trying to brainstorm how this might work. What I do believe is that at some point, something is going to have to give. I think you could still easily do a primetime show albeit with a smaller audience but you’re also going to have to satisfy the live demand at the same time.
Ah, the Internet, yet again destroying age old business models and leaving corporate eggheads in its wake.