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Summary:

Stung by online criticism of its “#NBCFail” Olympics, the broadcaster comes out fighting with a range of record cross-platform viewing stats it says show critics are just a ‘vocal minority’. But can it make the most of digital when the laser focus is on prime time TV?

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Record-breaking Olympics audiences across all NBC platforms suggests “the silent majority” of viewers are perfectly satisfied with its coverage, the under-pressure broadcaster on Thursday told reporters it convened to address criticism dubbed “#NBCFail“.

“We’ve had some challenges,” NBC Sport chair Mark Lazarus conceded. “They’ve been documented by some of you and some of our critics in social media. Some of it is, in fact, fair and we are listening. We knew it wouldn’t be perfect and we said that before the games – we are trying new things.”

Prime-time loves spoilers:

NBC, whose merger partner Comcast ranks #26 in this year’s paidContent 50 list, has been ridiculed online for holding back live events for U.S. prime time whilst online chatter and news reports give away results to online users. But NBC research president Alan Wurtzel said results of a 1,000-viewer survey conducted on Sunday showed:

“Forty-three percent said they’d heard about results of Olympic events … but they said they were more likely to watch the prime time coverage that night than those who hadn’t.”

Wurtzel said a second survey showed:

“Viewers who streamed live events on Saturday were nearly twice as likely to watch the prime-time broadcast, and spent 50 percent more time watching that those who didn’t stream.”

Still, NBC aims to try harder not to spoil its own coverage, after some company tweets gave away event results. “We’re learning as we go here,” Lazarus said. “We meet every morning to go over what we’ve learned. We’re talking about tweaking the timings and how we push out.”

NBC digital stats:

Wurtzel presented stats showing 64 million total video streams served across all platforms, while regular TV viewing has outperformed NBC’s Beijing games for six consecutive nights, Wurtzel said, suggesting it is benefitting from a halo effect from other platforms. See the full online viewing breakdown.

‘Minority’ see ‘fail’:

NBC is streaming all of the games at NBCOlympics.com.

But has variously been mocked for tape delays, replacing sensitive opening-ceremony scenes with commercials, poor commentary, for the website requiring cable authentication and for Twitter temporarily suspending a user for tweeting an NBC executive’s email address.

Lazarus defended:

“Everyone has got the right to have their point of view. The overwhelming majority of the people are voting with their clickers, fingertips and mousclicks and saying ‘we enjoy what you do’.

“We listen to (the criticism of a) very loud minority. But the silent majority has been with us for the last six days.”

The defense, of course, exposes the overarching importance of television’s old prime time advertising slot in an emerging IP world that, at least to fans who care enough, has so much more potential for real-time immediacy.

Old and new

Lazarus drew attention to NBC’s online Olympics commitment, enhanced from Beijing:

“No one’s ever done this much simultaneous live streaming before.  We are doing a lot of experimentation, we will continue to do that. We are mixing tradition and innovation.

“There are so many events going on, you physically cannot do everything live. All the events are available through the streaming to cable customers – that’s 90 percent of the consumer base.

“We’re archiving the best of these live events for our prime time show – that’s traditional – (pulling out the) story arcs. The Olympics is so much more than a sporting event.

“Not everyone is going to be happy – but it’s clear (viewers) are coming in droves and staying night after night. We believe we’re doing everything we can to satisfy the majority of our viewers – the results bear out.”

He made non-specific reference to how things might change in future: “By 2020, the one thing we know for sure is that the media’s going to change.” But the bigger change, fortunately for NBC, is that the next games, in Rio, will be on a more accommodating time zone.

“Rio will be live,” Lazarus said. “Sochi (2014 Winter Olympics), we’ll have to wait and see where they schedule the events and what time that translates to here. Our preference is live in prime time where we can.”

In a 24-hour world, it seems 8pm-to-11pm is still where the money is. Lazarus said NBC, which had initially forecast to lose $200 million on the Olympics, will do far better:  “We’ve made significant incremental money and will now be around breakeven. There’s a small chance we could make a little bit of money – we’ll know over the next few weeks.”

[<a href="http://storify.com/btballenger/nbcfail-x-ways-nbc-blew-olympics-coverage" target="_blank">View the story "#nbcfail: 8 Ways NBC Blew Olympics Coverage" on Storify</a>]

  1. “There are so many events going on, you physically cannot do everything live. ”

    Tell that to the BBC. I have 24 HD channels showing pretty much everything you want to see.

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  2. “the silent majority” of viewers are perfectly satisfied with its coverage – Being satisfied cannot be mistaken for tolerating the way things have been when an Olympics city is hours away. Not everyone has a computer with a fast enough connection to watch live coverage, so that is not a real alternative. The network simply wants to be able to generate the most revenue by postponing TV showing of events until the traditional family hours. NBC and Comcast have not made any friends of those in my extended family.

    “Everyone has got the right to have their point of view.”? Where is the education these days? Everyone has got the right to have his point of view.

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    1. “Their” is a generally accepted gender-neutral pronoun to use these days. Would you prefer “his/her”, “hir”, “zir”, “one’s”?

      “[H]ave one’s point of view” is not that bad, actually.

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  3. I have yet to find any coverage worth watching on NBC in prime time because the results are all over twitter. Who wants to watch sports when you know the winner? That is a total fail and NBC needs to wake up and play the games LIVE, when they happen. If they want to re-play them for the (majority) then do it, but when others ( cough BBC) are playing the games live, what’s the problem? Oh yeah, NBC is all about the money like comcast and they don’t care who complains. They only care about the people who don’t complain. #NBCfail will be around long after the olympic coverage ends. This is a huge blunder for NBC and comcast. I looked forward to the olympics until the horrible coverage and now I just read about the wins because the announcers and coverage SUCKS!

    #NBC FAIL!!

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    1. *COUGH* BBC operates under a government charter and is funded through a mandatory television license fee.

      Perhaps you’d like to pay an additional yearly fee to the US government to get the same kind of coverage?

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  4. They’re still “using their clickers” because they don’t have any choice. NBC has everything so locked down that if you want to watch, you have to do it the way they want you to. It’s like being in a remote town with one pizza shop when you want a pizza. What else are you going to do?

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  5. Truthfully, I doubt they will ever be live as they don’t know what the word live means. Especially if you’re like me out on the West Coast. Where NBC always screws us.

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    1. Back in 2008 I was watching the 3-hour delayed feed from the West Coast, when it was interrupted by a real-time feed of Phelps popping out of the water AFTER winning his record-setting medal. Needless to say, I had no interest in watching the delayed full version 3 hours later.

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      1. Matthew Scott Saturday, August 4, 2012

        thats just utterly ludicrous.

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  6. If you have spent any time online, you know that the silent majority of people on the Internet are lurkers. They don’t usually speak up. But that doesn’t mean they are all happy and satisfied. They do leave, in hordes, when they find a better choice. They make their choices heard with deafening silence of departure. Ask Digg.

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  7. The “silent majority” is silent because they have little (zero) choice in what NBC feeds them by way of coverage.

    Those who have the ability/knowledge to see the quality of expansive coverage offered by the BBC (and even the CBC) know how monumentally pathetic NBC’s coverage is by comparison.

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  8. Stephen O'Connor Saturday, August 4, 2012

    I can not believe what I DIDN’T see tonight (and I am not staying up till 1am in the hope I might see a snap replay), not a single mention of the women’s 10,000m final (the Ethiopian Dibaba defended her title from Beijing and is a living legend), nothing from the early rounds of the 400m, nothing from the velodrome….this is getting beyond a joke. Interview with a snowboarder, the life story of every american swimmer and gymnast, but not even the last lap of the 10,000m What is going on! I have lived in and watched the Olympics in Ireland (’80, ’84), in Swaziland, yes, Swaziland (’88 and ’92), the UK in 2000 and 2008, I attended Athens in person in 2004 and was in the US working a summer in ’96, and I have never seen worse coverage. Even from a US perspective it is pathetic. If you live in Swaziland you will see (and enjoy) Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas and the other US athletes, no doubt, but if you are here…..the other night in women’s team gymnastic final the camera would stay on the US team even if they were sitting aorund doing nothing, just waiting their turn. Oh, and when I was here in 1996, well I struggled to get any news at all, in rural Penn it was like it wasn’t even happening. Sorry, you guys and particularly Mr. Gunts just don’t get it. I have heard many many people here in the US complaining that they just don’t feel they are getting a feeling for what is going on over there in London, and that’s coming from people who are of course most interested in the US team…… Pathetic. As for Mr. Gunts’ comments about ‘ratings’….what, does he think we are dumb, if you control what people see and they have NO CHOICE you hold the cards and of course your ratings will be high…..I thought freedom of choice and variety were the american way!
    I have never, ever not seen the 100m final live…..it is one of those true shared experiences the whole world enjoys, why are you keeping the US isolated from the rest fo the world? It is live in the afternoon on a Sunday. Wake up people.

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  9. ““No one’s ever done this much simultaneous live streaming before.”

    “There are so many events going on, you physically cannot do everything live.”

    Ummm…. no. There are 24 dedicated BBC Olympics channels in the UK (48 if you want to count both the SD & HD channels seperately). Also, the BBC are streaming every event live on their website.

    We don’t have any ad breaks either. But that’s a whole other thing…

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