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NBC’s Olympics Balancing Act


While NBC’s broadcast of the Summer Olympics in London was a ratings success, the criticisms over some aspects of its coverage was a microcosm of how consumers believe content should be delivered in today’s multi-device environment.

An increasing number of consumers view media on their portable devices and share it via social networks these days and it is those consumers who resent any attempts to restrict access to content, whatever it may be. When it comes to canned content such as movies and TV shows, such access has existed in a fairly controlled and balanced environment, (although piracy remains a constant concern). When such large-scale live events such as the Olympics enter the picture, those consumers expect continued unfettered access to such content in real time.

And for the vast majority of its two weeks plus broadcasts, NBC delivered that real-time coverage, much of it for free over the- air. It was only when viewers realized that coverage of the high-profile events would be delayed for prime time that the real criticism let loose. In that respect, NBC hasn’t really changed the manner of its prime time coverage since the Olympics were first broadcast by U.S. networks more than 50 years ago. But in a world where social networks and constant up-to-the-minute newsfeeds occupy our daily media consumption, consumers expect more.

Of course the press loves controversy and, looking at it another way, if this was the biggest problem during the Olympics, perhaps that’s a good thing, considering the very public angst over security concerns leading up to the event.

NBC delivered more than 5,000 hours of Olympics coverage this year, an astounding accomplishment that reflects the hard work and dedication of the network’s Olympics technical crew, led by Dave Mazza, and documented in this issue by TV Technology Europe Editor Mark Hallinger. The network has honed its editing, asset management and distribution platforms to enable faster, more efficient production methods that will serve as a template for years to come, even in areas beyond its Olympics coverage.

The Olympics is one of those high-profile events that transcends labels. Is it a news event? Is it a sporting event? Is it a TV show? In reality, it’s all three and NBC performed a delicate balancing act over the two weeks between ensuring a high-quality program and delivering as much content to as many platforms as available, all while trying to satisfy advertisers as well as media- savvy consumers who demand content anywhere, anytime, and on any device. And while the critics were fairly vocal, they represented a small minority of disgruntled viewers. The numbers told the story: NBC averaged 31.5 million viewers per night, an increase of 12 percent over Beijing.

But that doesn’t mean that the network will maintain the status quo. “We evaluate our business models all the time, and seek the best ways to satisfy the majority of viewers, as well as advertisers, and our affiliate stations,” Mark Lazarus, NBC Sports chairman told the L.A. Times. “We’re going to continue to innovate... We’ve got the Olympic Games through 2020 and the one thing we know for sure is that the media landscape’s going to change.”

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (, the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.