So there I was, gliding my curling stone with the boys out at the Bank of America Curling Complex and Drive-Thru when I realized that less than a month from now, we’ll already be knee deep into NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics from Sochi in Russia.
The network will be streaming all of it online, but only if you have cable or satellite service. That’s a first. It’s extreme sports coverage.
The exception will be the opening ceremonies on Feb 6, which will be aired only on the NBC broadcast network, no doubt to maximize ratings during February sweeps. And because, as the network explains it, the opening is a family viewing experience.
Television will show more than 500 hours of coverage and online will show over 1,000, which means this Olympics will have twice as much video coverage as the last two Winter Olympics combined. No one, as far as I can tell, has asked for this, but it’s nice to know it’s there. There’s a run down of what’s happening here.
It’s online that gets an amazing onslaught of sports. For just about two solid weeks, it’s the Winter Olympics “live-extra” online. (Viewers have to sign up at NBCOlympics.com.) And it’s an incredible undertaking—those 1,000 hours include 98 events—much of it devoted to spotlighting athletes we’ve never heard of competing in sports we don’t care about.
My curling stone reference above, I’ve got to say, was a lead I invented to draw you, the faithful reader, into this blog. I do not have a curling stone, nor does Bank of America have a stadium. I’m not sure my little lie sucked you in, but as you may recall, curling became quite the media thing at past Winter Olympics, the sports fan joke equivalent of being a Susan Boyle groupie.
But let’s not crack wise. NBC Sports's massive plans include apps for Android and iOS devices, a Twitter account and even Intagram and Vine components. Almost all of that is being handled by Akamai Technlogies, which has the daunting task of streaming and archiving the whole show.
NBC Universal is making the most of the TVEverywhere push, even if a lot of it is for ViewersHereandthere since, except for a few events, the whole world may be watching, but only in bits and pieces. A promotional video shows Americans watching the games on every device imaginable — except a TV.
NBC has no trouble giving up those viewers because they're probably not as plentiful as that promo suggests. Alan Wurtzel, the president of NBCU’s research and media development, told Variety it’s likely those live online viewers will be relatively few and some may be enticed to dial up the broadcast or cable curated telecasts, so it’s no skin off NBCU’s Nielsen nose.
It seems kind of smart to use the Internet as the Olympics catch-all. The network will have all the footage it needs, and as happens nearly every time there is an Olympics, something unexpected occurs at venues no one is paying much attention to. (For these games, unfortunately, we’re talking about something unexpected that won’t have anything to do with sports.)
Online will be packed with the interesting and the obscure, and it turns out it’s a pretty good use of the Internet, which has all the room in the world to cater to small audiences and even collections of small audiences. For example those 1,000 hours of coverage may seem like a lot, but YouTube generates that much video in 10 minutes, over and over again, day after day. (Including, ahem, the U.S. women’s curling team, which recorded a parody, “What Does the Skip Say.”) On the plus side, online video may attract nontraditional online visitors who have not made it a habit to watch video on their computers or smartphones. Maybe, it’s a winning event for streaming.