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So How'd We Do? Revisiting 'The Digital Olympics'

  |  August 31, 2012   |  Comments

How Twitter, NBC, BBC, and others fared during the London Olympics.

Just prior to the Olympics, I wrote a piece for this column titled, "The Digital Olympics." The story generated a great response and several people asked me to do a follow-up at the close of the Games. So here we go. Because I can't help myself, I'm awarding medals.

Twitter

twitter-gold-medalTwitter was the primary Olympics platform and the biggest social story. A mere stripling at the 2008 Games, there were more tweets in a single day in London than during the entire Beijing Games. Twitter was the Games' bellwether and most of the time the over 150 million tweets during the 17 days were positive and focused on the athletes, five of whom had over one million tweets each.

As always, Twitter was also where people went to vent their vitriol with much of the negative sentiment from U.S. users directed toward NBC. Depending on whose number you believe, somewhere between 750,000 to 900,000 tweets hashtagged #nbcfail carpet-bombed Twitter feeds for the first few days of the Olympics.

Twitter wins gold without a doubt as the mouthpiece of the event.

Our Predictions

possible-gold-medalIt's always more fun to be right than wrong; prior to the Olympics a lot of experts felt that London wasn't going to match the Phelps/Bolt spectacles of Beijing. And while they were right that the 2012 stories weren't quite as compelling, at my company we were pretty sure that numbers were going way up. It didn't seem like a tough call to us - with the increase in broadband penetration and consumers' growing comfort level with video coupled with more ways to watch, all of our models predicted bigger numbers, and we weren't disappointed.

In my "Digital Olympics" piece from last month, I stated, "Given the increase in broadband penetration and consumer fluency with video, our models suggest we'll see 1-1.5 million hours of video watched per day during the games."

The final result for the entire Games was 20.4 million hours of streamed video, more than double Beijing's 9.9 million, according to Multichannel News. This equates to 1.2 million hours of video per day for the 17-day event. Allow me to say "Bam!" Our model was spot-on. I award gold to my company's performance marketing team that modeled the data.

NBC

nbc-bronze-medalAll of the U.S. stats focus on NBC, which had the difficult and very public job of bringing us the Games online. Because NBC is such a big player, I'm giving it both an overall score and then medals in several events. So, with a high degree of difficulty and a few flaws, NBC takes the bronze overall; and whatever Bela Karolyi might do, I'm not budging on my scores. Read on to see why.

Online Viewing

nbc-gold-medalThere are about 100 million pay-TV (cable, telco, satellite) households in the U.S., and yes, as I wrote in the previous column, in this country you had to be a paying subscriber to get streaming access to the Olympics. Even with that restriction, NBC served 159 million streams for London, compared with 75 million for Beijing.

The largest usage jump was in live streams, up over 350 percent from Beijing, but that is in large part accounted for by the less dramatic time change and more live hours available this time around. Sure, a lot of it was due to user behaviors, but huge credit goes to NBC for serving the video without technical issues to speak of.

App-Based Viewing

comcast-silver-medalThe new kid on the block was apps, and it had a huge impact; apps were responsible for 30 percent of the streams. Between the apps and the website, 9.9 million devices were verified (meaning users confirmed their pay-TV credentials), with the Olympics app spending several days as the number one app in both major app stores (Apple and Google). Amazingly, Comcast's Xfinity customers verified an average 2.4 devices for streaming. How crazy is that? Look no further for proof that viewers want to watch across a variety of platforms. While the design of the apps could have been much better (forcing portrait except when watching video is a huge drag) and they missed out on a big social integration opportunity, the incredible usage gets a silver medal.

On top of all that, on-air numbers were up too; NBC averaged 31.1 million viewers daily on TV - making this year's Games the most watched event in U.S. TV history. There are several key takeaways from these numbers.

  • As we've been saying for a long time, IP viewing is currently accretive.
  • There are still fewer cord cutters than most companies would have you believe.

Ad Model

This is truly one of the great lost opportunities of the Olympics. In the previous column I mentioned that my hopes weren't high for NBC to innovate on its ad model, and I'm sad to have been correct. NBC used the exact same ad model it used in Beijing; a pre-roll ad with a companion banner. I've been on this soapbox for some time, but here we go again.

Don't mistake IP media on the web and in apps for outdoor. Don't mistake it for TV. IP media has this glorious thing called "interactivity" that allows users to have an experience with your brand and learn more about it - but only if you provide a forum for them to do so. Because sponsors rotated through the NBC Olympics site, anyone watching several videos in a row invariably saw the same pre-roll ad over and over again. This builds brand annoyance - the opposite of brand loyalty.

The Olympics is the perfect opportunity to create a better relationship between advertisers and viewers; it's not a video platform that has to run tons of advertisers all year long. It's a small number of global advertisers who are already building custom creative for their website, TV spots, and even banners. What NBC could have done was allow advertisers to build interactive microsites within the player itself. This would have allowed interested viewers to explore the brand without leaving the player.

While it hasn't taken off for a number of reasons (primarily the high cost of entry), Apple had the right idea with the "iAd" format. Think about being able to scroll through and watch Coke's "Move to the Beat" viral videos, gift somebody a virtual Big Mac, or record and send your mom your own "Thank you, Mom" video, all without leaving the Olympics player. If you can provide interactivity everybody wins: advertisers know who and how many people were interested in their products and get data on what was more or less popular, consumers might actually be able to discover something they like, and NBC could charge more for the placements. One thing we won't be seeing? Click-through rates for the banners that passed for advertising.

nbc-tinfoil-medalIt hasn't been given since the Russian judges in the '80s, but for the ad model NBC's getting the tinfoil medal; please don't mistake it for the silver.

bbc-gold-medalThe big winner broadcaster came from the host nation as the BBC put on a clinic on how to get a big event out to a big audience. Its app and website coverage was similar to NBC's. Its television broadcast lineup was better than NBC and more in-depth (the BBC provided nearly blanket coverage of the games for 17 days across 24 feeds) as one would expect from the host nation. However, what really set the BBC apart was the social partnership with Facebook.

While the NBC deal was structured to provide reciprocal linking between Facebook and NBC's Olympics property, Facebook and the BBC went a step further; they streamed events directly on Facebook. I thought this debate was ancient history and that we had iron-clad proof with Vevo: a view is a view, wherever it happens. You can monetize it, provide a strong brand message, anything you need to just as effectively with distributed and syndicated content as you can with content on your own site. Kudos to BBC. The success of the Olympics has even pushed the BBC to improve its digital services, as the digital viewing audience has been so well-represented during the Games.

Can you hear "God Save the Queen"? The BBC takes gold.

Although I love the Winter Games, there is nothing like the Summer Olympiad as a viewing and marketing spectacular. I don't know what will change in digital media before Rio 2016, but I can assure you it will be significant. Just promise me that when I'm watching on my flexible screen in my flying car that marketers will have better tools than pre-roll and companion ads to get me to engage with their brand.

For those who want to go more in-depth, there's a great SlideShare from Alex Balfour, London 2012's head of new media. He digs into a huge amount of the data - I found it really insightful.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Solmssen

Andrew Solmssen serves as managing director of Possible's Los Angeles office, leading the firm's West Coast client teams and determining best practices for engagement management.

He previously served as managing director at digital firm Schematic, where he played a key role in developing some of the earliest advertising models for delivering broadcast content via the Internet. Andrew was also responsible for providing strategic guidance to clients such as Comcast, ABC Television, and NBC Universal in the areas of digital strategy, content distribution, mobile entertainment, and Internet TV. Before Schematic, Andrew served as executive producer at Web design and consulting firm Kaufman Patricof Enterprises.

A frequent speaker at industry events such as Digital Hollywood and CES, Andrew is also regularly quoted by business and trade media on the topics of digital advertising and technology innovation. Prior to his involvement in digital media, Andrew lived in Namibia as part of the Harvard Institute for International Development.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @asolmssen.

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