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Summary:

NBC’s Olympics coverage online, streamed through YouTube, features some quality technology, a deep catalog, a strong user experience — but the ad load on archived and broadcast coverage is massive. Which feels excessive, especially given that it’s limited to cable subscribers.

Screen shot 2012-08-03 at 4.29.17 PM (2)

One of the great ironies about the 2012 Summer Games is that Americans online have been so dedicated to complaining about NBC’s Olympics coverage that it’s a shame it’s not a medal event — but NBC is recording not only record televised ratings, but off-the-charts performance for its online and mobile offerings. And that’s remarkable, given the fact that the website’s coverage is limited to those with a cable subscription — no cord cutters allowed.

So what does the cable subscriber get for their monthly fees? I sat down with NBCOlympics.com twice: First, on Friday afternoon, when due to the time difference live-stream options were limited. So initially, I decided to watch an archived event, selecting the bronze medal archery match because allegedly archery is one of the more popular sports this time around.

When I hit the watch button for the match, the site took me to log in with my cable provider (requesting the same login I use for HBO Go) and it was authorized in literally 30 seconds, which was a pleasant surprise.

However, in a Hulu-esque “just because you’re a subscriber doesn’t mean you’re going to escape ads” move, I immediately got hit with a 15-second pre-roll. Then it jumped right into the action with no commentary — minus some loading/buffering issues that could be chalked up to the age of my machine and my internet connection.

After a bit of archery, I switched over to try some live video — while it was 12 AM in London, NBC Sports’ stream was active — and was hit with a 30 second pre-roll on that.

NBCSN was showing more archery, albeit this time with announcer commentary — but two minutes later, the round ended, and the broadcast switched over to not one, not two, but FIVE ads.

The ads weren’t from the broadcast, though, instead being fed through YouTube’s player — made clear when I caught the tail end of a JC Penney ad right before returning to the action.

At that point, archery had lost its luster, but the site’s sidebar showed that the CNBC live stream was showing boxing. I loaded it up in the secondary screen:

And then I swapped it into the main player — just in time, as NBCSN had gone off the air. The screen-switching action was pretty seamless, with the added bonus of being able to keep an eye on the other channel.

However, almost immediately after making the switch, boxing switched to commercials. EIGHT commercials. In the first twenty minutes of my NBC Olympics experience, I saw 15 ads, ranging from 15 to 30 seconds each.

The only positive spin I can put on that kind of ad load? At least there was minimal repetition in the commercials being shown. As any active online video viewer will tell you, the only thing that makes an oversaturated ad experience worse is when it’s the same ad, over and over again.

My second viewing session took place at 9 AM Saturday morning, so that I could check out the live sports being streamed from London — there weren’t a ton of options, but men’s power-walking beckoned. After one 15 second pre-roll ad, uninterrupted coverage of the VERY INTENSE power-walking action began.

The lack of commentary was an issue, as it meant I didn’t know how close the race was to finishing, so I switched over to men’s volleyball. One 15 second ad popped up during a time-out, but then the video went right back to the match.

Ultimately, the technology worked well for me — but man, those ads. While live sports were a lot better in that regard than the network feeds or the archived events, the amount of commercials I encountered in casual browsing easily felt excessive.

For those wanting complete control over their Olympics viewing, the amount of content NBC has made available online is impressive, and the player overall worked well — but especially given the fact that this coverage is limited to those paying $100 or more a month for cable, you definitely feel like you’re paying twice over for the experience.

  1. I understand your point. And watching ads in general is annoying. But realistically the ads are just as normal online then they are on the TV channels. When watching 20 minutes of coverage on any of the NBC channels take a count of the number commercials you see. That is at least 2 or 3 breaks for ads and each break is 3 to 4 min long. That’s up to and often more then 8 ads per break.

    Channels need ads to make money. Yes Cable/Satellite providers pay them to rebroadcast but nowhere near the money needed to make a profit. Until the business model is changed where ads are no longer needed both network and online broadcasts of content will have ads.

    I think people are simply overacting to having their open internet taken over buy an old but proven system to pay for quality content.

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    1. @Mike L, agreed, this is the reality in the U.S. market, where the broadcast TV experience is optimized for the advertisers. Which is exactly why I was hoping to access the BBC’s Olympic coverage online.

      IMHO, people are likely reacting to flexible IP technology being used in a way, by legacy media, that’s somewhat counter-intuitive. I’m also thinking that the long-term bad karma generated by NBC isn’t worth the short-term profits.

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  2. Playback Rewards Monday, August 6, 2012

    That is why the world needs Playback Rewards – our patented technology from the UK, coming to British homes in early 2013. Take a look at the Playback Rewards website and look at the videos from Stephen Fry and David Elstein (www.playbackrewards.com)

    AK – CEO of Playback Holdings Ltd

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  3. Meanwhile in Europe, every local channel and the European broadcasting service offer 12 different stream channels with 0 ads (no pre-roll, no banners, no subscription needed).
    Lack of commentary is an issue here too (other than the main 1-2 streams), the inability to receive the BBC commentary if you’re out of the UK is a shame, and the fact that highlights are hard to find unless they were curated in your country of residence is too a shame, but the overall experience is very good. Stream quality has been excellent so far, even in the pick moments such as the 100m final.

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    1. Martin Focazio Tuesday, August 7, 2012

      And, in Europe, you pay a television license every year, a concept that would make Americans spontaneously combust. That’s how they can afford to do things with zero ads.

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  4. This is interesting. I’m watching Olympics on Youtube sitting in India and loving it. 11 live streaming HD channels with ZERO ads and two sound tracks to choose from – one with commentary and one just natural sound!

    Even the local TV coverage on ESPN/StarSports is quite good.

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  5. I’m not a cable subscriber, so I don’t have access. What surprised me the most about NBC’s online strategy: when I attempted to access their online Olympics, the message simply said “you don’t have access” — but there was zero information on how I could get access. Where was the “buy now” button that would let me decide if I wanted to pay for a month’s worth of access?

    Having read this report, I count myself lucky that they didn’t have one!

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  6. Where is the point? IOC charges them million of $ for every minute they broadcast. That’s no Hundefutter as we say in here in Germany. So why shouldn’t they trry to earn it back?

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  7. I just watched the women’s uneven bars, and after every routine they went to a 30 second ad block, so we never got to see the slow motion replay (except for Gabby Douglas), or the commentator’s opinions on how they did. At one point they went to the ad only seconds before a score was displayed, so we missed one girl’s placement.
    It seems on the team sports like volleyball and soccer they don’t really have a choice but to show it mostly uniterrupted. However, as I found out this morning with gymastics, for every 15 second routine you get 30 seconds of ads.

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  8. Try watching gymnastics online. They run 30 seconds of ads after every routine. For the women’s uneven bars, that meant you got to see the 15 second routine, then missed all the slow motion replay. At one point they jumped to the ads only seconds before a score was to be announced. When they came back it was already on the next girl’s routine.

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  9. Philip Carter Monday, August 6, 2012

    The ads are repetitive. The ads are intrusive. The ad display time surpasses event viewing time. It is completely unwatchable.

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  10. Trying to watch the BMX Men’s QF’s and I am seeing multiple ads every 30 seconds. they keep cutting off the races. NBC sucks so bad. It makes me want to just ignore the whole damn Olympics.

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  11. Classic American greed = NBC Olympics Coverage

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