(Repeats with no changes)
* NBC exec says would consider streaming Olympics to non-pay
* Calls Olympics coverage a mix of innovation and tradition
* London Games most viewed Olympics ever in U.S.
By Liana B. Baker
NEW YORK, Aug 2 NBC briefly tore down the
digital wall protecting its Olympics coverage on Thursday and
permitted consumers without a pay TV subscription to watch live
online a much-anticipated race starring American swimmers
Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
The move was aimed at appeasing critics of NBC's strategy of
delaying broadcasts of major Olympics events for prime time or
requiring a cable subscription for online streaming - and could
foreshadow how the Comcast Corp-owned network (CMCSA.O) might
handle its coverage of future Games.
NBC has managed to make the London Games the most-watched
Olympics ever by tape-delaying marquee events to air in the
evening in the United States, maximizing viewers and advertising
But media experts say this could very well be the last
Olympics for which this model works, pointing to the
ever-growing demand from consumers who want to be able to watch
content on any device at any time they want. NBC paid $4.4
billion for the U.S. rights to the next four Olympics through
"The old way to think about media is what NBC is doing,
saying, ‘We own this. You don’t. You can’t watch without us.'
And that’s the key change in media’s relationship with its
public that the Internet brings on. That’s what NBC is not
grappling with," said City University of New York graduate
journalism professor Jeff Jarvis.
NBC executives defended their strategy on a conference call
on Thursday, pointing to the fact that the London Games have
averaged around 35 million viewers, surpassing the previous
record held by the Atlanta Games in 1996.
But the executives said they would consider new ways of
covering future Olympics.
Describing NBC's Olympics coverage as "mixing innovation and
tradition," NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus said he would be
willing to discuss with NBC's cable partners an online-only
streaming package for non-pay TV subscribers.
"I don't rule anything out. We've got the Olympic Games
through 2020 and the one thing we know for sure is that the
media landscape is going to change," he said.
Lazarus added that the company wants to "take in the data"
and "analyze everything" before making any future coverage
Another option executives said they would consider is airing
events live on TV as they happen and then re-running them again
in prime time.
But with people consuming more and more online video every
year and technology advancing in the living room, NBC will
likely need to adopt some changes for the Rio Olympics in 2016,
said Todd Gordon, executive vice president and U.S. director of
MagnaGlobal, a media agency owned by Interpublic Group (IPG.N).
"The opportunity to get content on whatever screen you want
will be even greater than it is now. It is going to be more and
more difficult for them to keep that content off the screen in
your living room," Gordon said. "It probably won’t make sense
for them to restrict it four years from now because most likely
you’ll be able to get that online stream directly to your living
One advantage NBC will have in 2016 is the smaller time
difference between Brazil and the United States, which makes it
easier to broadcast live events like the opening ceremony. The
organizers for the 2014 winter games in Sochi, Russia, have not
yet set a time for the opening ceremony. The host city for 2018
games is Pyeongchang, South Korea while the 2020 games have not
yet been awarded.
"Our preference is to do things live in prime time where we
can," Lazarus said, noting that NBC Universal's TV networks have
so far aired almost two-thirds of the events from London live,
or about 158.5 live hours out of 274 total hours.
Lazarus and NBC Research President Alan Wurtzel gave an
impassioned defense on Thursday against critics who have stormed
Twitter, Facebook (FB.O) and other social media to decry the
network's tape-delayed broadcasts, technical glitches with
online streaming and heavy promotions.
While acknowledging that some of the criticism is fair,
Lazarus said he did not think the complainers represented NBC's
wider Olympic audience.
"We listen. We read. We understand there are people that
don't like what we are doing, but we think that is a very loud
minority and the silent majority has been with us for the first
six days," Lazarus said.
Wurtzel cited a survey of 1,000 people that showed those who
heard about event results beforehand were more likely to tune
into prime-time coverage.
Indeed, this year's games represent the first time every
Olympic competition is being made available online. According to
a source familiar with NBC, that is because Lazarus is more
digitally inclined than his predecessor, longtime NBC Sports
boss Dick Ebersol.
The social media outcry aside, NBC has little incentive to
change the current business model, particularly as tape-delayed
prime-time ratings have so far topped the live prime-time
ratings for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The ratings have been so strong that Lazarus said NBC may
even "make a little bit of money" on the Games. Initially,
Comcast had estimated a potential loss of as much as $200
million on the Games.
Advertisers, too, remain supportive of how NBC has handled
itself in London. They say the costly economics of delivering
comprehensive coverage from foreign countries means there is
little chance of major changes before the next Games.
"I would still say in the immediate future, four to eight
years from now, TV is still going to be the dominant screen with
probably a greater share going digital," said Steve Kalb,
director of video investment at the Mediahub division of Mullen,
another unit of Interpublic Group.
But, as Wurtzel noted on Thursday, by streaming events to
tablets, smartphones, and online, NBC is cultivating the next
generation of young Olympic viewers.
So, just as the London Olympics built on the Beijing Games
by offering more streaming and more hours of coverage, viewers
should expect NBC to continue to experiment with the model in
future Olympics to see how far it can bend without breaking.
(Additional reporting by Yinka Adegoke; Editing by Peter
Lauria, Tiffany Wu and Richard Chang)
Keywords: NBC OLYMPICS/FUTURE
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