Online Summer Olympics Will Look a Lot Like Olympics on TV

This summer’s Olympic games won’t be the first Olympics to boast thousands of hours of broadband video; but it will likely be the first to deliver the events across so many platforms, from the TV to the desktop to the tablet to the smartphone. That’s because video viewing on mobile devices has skyrocketed in the last year.

The games then will be an interesting proving ground for digital video technology. To get it right, NBC is going to need to manage a lot of moving parts, from video files to live programming to ads that belong on different devices for the 3,000 hours of live online video coverage it’s planning. The media company said this week that it’s paired up with online video technology firm FreeWheel to manage and serve up the ads on NBC.com, NBCSports.com and other properties.

What’s particularly interesting about this deal is it’s the latest one that promises to deliver online video ads in a form that closely mirrors TV, and underscores that media properties increasingly need to make online video feel like TV. Companies like Tremor Video are selling on GRPs, Nielsen is aiming to standardize ratings for TV and online in one cross-platform ratings system, and ad loads have doubled in online video over the last year. Freewheel has said that in 2011, the number of online video ads in programs longer than 20 minutes jumped from three to seven.

The new NBC-FreeWheel deal both follows this trend and builds on it, because the ads that run in Olympic programming will be served up in commercials breaks that look like ad breaks on TV. Advertisers online can opt for the first spot in a commercial pod, or the last, or adjacency to a certain athlete or event. Those factors can all be managed live and in real-time, along with display rights windows, inventory booking conflicts and any ad unit constraints, FreeWheel said.

Plus, ads will be tailored for each platform via digital ad insertion, with perhaps shorter, call-to-action spots for mobile phones and more TV-esque ones for PC viewing. “An advertiser like BMW will be able to have different ads running at the same time targeting someone watching on a smartphone, a tablet, and a PC,” FreeWheel said.

FreeWheel works with a number of TV network clients, such as ESPN, A&E, and CBS and Turner, for which it just handled March Madness.

NBC is making a big play in digital ads from the Olympics to its role in the upcoming Digitas NewFronts  later this month. Already, the network has sold more than $50 million in digital ad buys for the summer Olympics.

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