When More Is Too Much

Like so many people in the world, I have been watching the Olympics as much as possible. In America, broadcaster NBC is showing the Olympics across its various broadcast stations. Additionally the network is broadcasting live feeds of everything at NBCOlympics.com. Of course, this intrigued me, so I checked out its user experience, and business model. Sadly, in at least one of these categories the site would never win an Olympic medal itself.

The site’s live streams are particularly problematic. Seeing as how the live streams are a major reason one goes to this website, the fact that they’re implemented as they are is particularly troublesome. Because they’re streaming live, unedited streams, there are no obvious places for commercials. And, because we’re talking about a broadcasting company, it only thinks in terms of commercials.

As a result, there are automatic commercials that replace the live feed every few minutes or so. When I watched the stream, commercials came literally every minute or two. The live action was disturbed by at least a 15-second commercial, and often a longer commercial. As these commercials are timed to come on about every minute, they interrupt anything the viewer is watching randomly. “Randomly” in this case translates into “always at a bad moment.”

On mobile devices, watching live video requires an app download. The user experience, however, remains the same. As soon as one logs in to the app a commercial plays. When the viewer changes a channel, a commercial plays. Then, once the viewer is watching a channel, commercials interrupt every minute or so.

Now, one might say, “this is how free video is supported.” Well, this is not free video. You must be a cable subscriber to even access these live feeds. These feeds are coming as part of your paid subscription to the cable companies. No, that doesn’t mean they should be commercial free, but this overabundance of commercials makes the games absolutely impossible to watch via the website or the mobile app.

What could NBC have done instead? Any number of common ideas already found in online video. YouTube has successfully created lower thirds (but smaller) to capitalize on popular videos and provide advertising revenue from these videos. NBC could have easily used this idea to provide non-intrusive advertising that kept the viewers watching. Instead, it has stuck to its traditional commercial model, which has the opposite effect: people simply stop watching the streams altogether. Advertisers lose out big when no one is watching.

While I applaud NBC for envisioning an online/mobile experience that allows cable subscribers to watch all the games live, it has failed miserably in execution. Sadly, the network’s user experience places it nowhere near winning a medal in these Olympics.

Until next time…
Jack