Tweet This: Why NBC's Olympics Coverage Isn't An #NBCFail

Sorry to be posting the column so late this week, but I’ve been busy working on this great app idea. It’s called Spoiler Alert, and it promises to wipe any breaking news about who won the 200 IM at the Olympics from every aspect of my life until I’m good and ready. It’ll monitor Twitter, the front page of, NPR News, while I’m indulging my carpooling hobby, you name it. I can’t wait to inhabit this beautiful bubble this app will create, and I bet you can’t wait, either.

Just think of the possibilities! No more finding out inadvertently that Lane Pryce killed himself on “Mad Men,”or that Derek Jeter is going to undergo a sex-change operation, or that Ryan Lochte didn’t turn out to be the next Michael Phelps, but does urinate in the Olympic pool.

This is earth-shattering stuff, not to mention, important for the future of the species, as anyone who tweeted the #NBCFail hashtag will tell you. Maybe, a week ago, you thought it was time to be freaked out about global warming, but now it’s all so clear. What you really should be freaked out about is that you knew that Jordyn Wieber didn’t make the cut for the women’s gymnastics all-around finals, hours before NBC’s TV coverage told you.

(Somewhat) more seriously though, the so-called first social media games have told us volumes about what a social media-saturated world looks like. And – spoiler alert! -- in this case, it’s not as much of a game-changer as you might think.

My real-time philosophizing here has to do with two observations about the Olympics:

1.     That NBC is attributing the complaints about its coverage to “a vocal minority,” flying in the face of conventional social media wisdom, which says you must listen, and take heed, at all times. According to this story in the New York Daily News, NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus even went so far as to say: ““It’s not everyone’s inalienable right to get whatever they want.” Wow. I think I’ll hire that guy to have a little chit-chat with my eight-year-old.

2.     Despite the fact that the results of every event are revealed in real time, and harder and harder to completely avoid – until the launch of my app, that is – TV  and online viewership of the London Games are up. This struck me as pretty surprising, when you consider that so many events are available online and that real-time results, while available back then, weren’t nearly as ubiquitous. The long and short of it is that knowing who won doesn’t dampen ratings; in fact, it’s clearer and clearer that social media helps ratings, spoiler alerts and all.

I’m sure some readers will find my cavalier attitude toward the NBC Olympics haters wanting, but the complaints forget one essential fact about NBC’s coverage of the Olympics: the broadcast exists so NBC can make money. While the network has received some useful, um, input into how it might reconsider coverage in the future, the fact remains that, even with the glitches, NBC’s formula works. When most of the money is made from TV, why would you air the finals of a big event in real time when real time is at 11 in the morning, instead of during prime time?

It should also be noted that NBC, like many a TV network, is more or less forced into providing live-streams online to satisfy its audience whether it’s a good business proposition, or not. The good news is that online traffic is up by 8% – with some 1.5 million, for instance, watching the women’s gymnastic team final as it happened. But if you think is a cash cow, you’re probably wrong – unless the network has managed to rewrite the rules of online advertising.

At its core, NBC’s Olympics coverage is where old media business models are intersecting with a newer one. But, even if you’re a true believer in the future of digital, it’s just about impossible to pretend that, for a network paying over a billion dollars for Olympics rights,  the newer, digital business model is the one to emphasize. The money just isn’t there.

Now, back to building that app. Enjoy your tape-delayed weekend, everyone!

7 comments about "Tweet This: Why NBC's Olympics Coverage Isn't An #NBCFail".
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  1. Rick Wion from McDonalds, August 3, 2012 at 4:08 p.m.

    BRAVO!! Finally a voice of reason in the #NBCFail discussion. Sports fans can't have their cake and eat it too.

  2. Bill Hewson from Hewson Group, August 3, 2012 at 4:18 p.m.

    This is a great post, and I love the writing, I just don't agree with your conclusion.

    My take away is that NBCs found (out at the same time we are finding out) that digital media, mostly social and mostly outside of NBCs control, is leading to a stronger cross-channel experience with the London Olympics for US fans overall.

    NBC can monetize it any way they want, but it seems there's a win win here for NBC to show all events live online, even the big TV audience draws like gymnastics and swimming, and still be able to reclaim their investment in prime time.

    Anyway, it will all be different in 2 years at the next games, that's for sure.

    Bill Hewson
    Hewson Group

  3. Bryan Person from Social Dynamx, August 3, 2012 at 4:27 p.m.

    Nice post here, Catharine. While some of the #NBCFail coverage has been warranted, much of it is has been misguided, and piling on for the sake of piling on.

    NBC is offering live streaming of all the events (save the opening/closing) online and through a mobile app, and then it's packaging up the best stuff for prime time. That's proven to be the winning formula for good ratings, which the network certainly has to shoot for after spending ~$1 billion for TV rights!

  4. Donna DeClemente from DDC Marketing Group, August 3, 2012 at 6:28 p.m.

    Thanks again Catharine. Whether readers here agree with all you've written are not, I just love the way you write it and state your opinions. It's so interesting one way or the other to see how we are all evolving in this social media world. Still much more to learn and so glad to be a part ot it. Yea, we are a small, but vocal group aren't we as NBC has stated.

  5. Jennifer Brown from IZEA, August 6, 2012 at 11:29 a.m.

    "That NBC is attributing the complaints about its coverage to “a vocal minority,” flying in the face of conventional social media wisdom, which says you must listen, and take heed, at all times."

    If we respond to every single issue that every single person raises, then we're no longer running effective businesses. Social media is a great tool to monitor sentiment and quickly snuff out problems but that doesn't mean every complaint is worthy of a redesigned strategy, compensation or reversal of a decision.

    Further, people like my parent's (in their late-40s) or who don't have a Facebook or Twitter page, like that they can catch the most popular/highly anticipated segments during primetime, after work. Social media users aren't the majority all the time.

  6. Brian LoCicero from Kantar, August 6, 2012 at 3:27 p.m.

    "That NBC is attributing the complaints about its coverage to “a vocal minority,” flying in the face of conventional social media wisdom, which says you must listen, and take heed, at all times."

    Jennifer is right although I think most of us are also hoping that, beyond running effective businesses, we can extend this to other issues where sudden massive (not really) outrage occurs the minute any medium-sized blogger hears or sees something they deem "offensive"

    I honestly hope this is the tipping point where realization that "Twitter outrage"≠"overwhelming voice of public" is dealt with effectively even by the very same NBC but via their news organizations!!

  7. Brian LoCicero from Kantar, August 6, 2012 at 4:49 p.m.

    This just out from Richard Roper puts things in a good perspective.

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