Commentary

NBC@Sochi: Learning to Crawl?

When you’re broadcasting the world’s largest event, there’s one thing that you might want to add to your investment package to make sure that people can take full advantage of everything you’re offering.

A map.

NBCU paid $775 million for the rights to broadcast the Sochi Olympics, and an estimated $250 more to produce the coverage. That translated into over 500 televised hours and another 1,500 streamed live online.

So why, after all of that coverage – and all of Comcast’s money – did my family feel under-served as a viewing household? Why did our interest in the Games go from “mildly enthusiastic” to “meh” faster than a falling Alpine skier?

Mainly, it was because every non-prime-time time we’d go to find Olympic coverage on the flagship network, we’d see Steve Harvey or Ellen doing their thing, rather than bobsledding.

Now I don’t begrudge NBC for honoring their commitment to their syndicators, nor the fans of “Days of Our Lives” keeping up on their storylines. What I question is NBC’s decision to ignore their near billion-dollar Olympic coverage on their network during many dayparts.

This isn’t to suggest that the coverage wasn’t available in other places. It was. But consider those harried viewers who may not have time for a “quick” search for Olympic coverage and become discouraged when the content they’re expecting is “on hold.” If you’re a mother with three young kids, patience isn’t necessarily something that you can buy with a mere billion dollars.

“Access Hollywood” will suddenly become Access Nick Jr., and an opportunity to develop young Olympic fans will be missed, if not lost altogether.

A solution might be found from that other heavy investor in televised sports, ESPN. They include a “Ticker” alongside their SportsCenter content that gives the viewer a sense of upcoming topics, along with their standard crawl at the bottom of the screen with news updates and scores.

I’m not suggesting using it to provide results. Instead, how about using a crawl to lead these underinformed viewers to the content they expect? Think about it. How much of the screen area would NBC have really lost to provide a sidebar with Olympic content locations? It’s possible that many casual sports viewers still wouldn’t be able to locate the NBCSports Channel on their cable lineup, but knowledge is power.

If they know that biathalon is on the air now elsewhere, they may just press the “Guide” button on their remote to find it. Why give people a reason to Google it when you can keep them in-house? And these days, people may not know NBCSports, but they sure know Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. For most of us, social is a lot more seductive than Sochi.

So why would NBC be so willing to push these viewers online?

Contrary to popular opinion, Americans still watch TV overwhelmingly on television sets. So assuming that an online live stream will suffice is ignoring a massive segment of the viewing audience, especially considering this particular content is custom-made for high-definition, widescreen, high-octane content. Why give the spectacle and majesty of global athletics the same aesthetic viewing experience as a viral Youtube video?

For all of their innovations in Olympic coverage, NBC could’ve spent just a few more dollars to provide some simple television SEO for those who know the network, but don’t yet know the entire NBCU family. Providing the information online is a great resource for some, but beware of pushing viewers off your property without risking losing them to something else. Because for all the glitz and glamour that’s associated with the Olympics, once people go online, the virtual world becomes a whole lot bigger than the Olympic one.
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