The Olympics (of Online Video)

It’s the Olympics. Hey, really. Wake up. It’s the Olympics.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not really catching the fever — though I feel like I should be. It’s got the momentous date of 08/08/08. The games are scheduled to start at 8:08. And there are about 17 gajillion ways for you to catch the 3,600 hours of games on every device you own or in every watering hole and restaurant you frequent.

Seen in a certain light, the way in which the games are being covered, broadcast, distributed, and monetized provides a highly accurate snapshot of where the world of online video is today, which is to say it shows the good (tons of content), the bad (how to find what you want simply), and the ugly (monetizing it is hard).

You’ve got your standard NBC broadcast, though sadly that’s going to be tape delayed. Hardcore fans will already know the results, which takes the fun out of watching sporting events. It’s a little like going to see “Titanic” and knowing that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is going to die.

And then every carrier has an exclusive arrangement of some kind. Verizon is pushing out on-demand on its FiOS and mobile streaming video VCast services, and AT&T is doing the same with its MediaFlo and U-Verse products. So, this is the first problem or challenge to these games — too much choice and too many venues, making it difficult to know where and how to watch.

The Good: Tons of Content

There will be 2,200 hours of live footage broadcast to you directly online and 3,000 hours on demand. Naysayers have been complaining that you can’t catch the big-ticket items — like women’s gymnastics or track and field — live, but when you go from what was done at Torino in 2006 with one live stream to now more than 20 simultaneous streams at once, you have to admit that progress has been made.

The Bad: Hard to Find What You Want

It’s just too darn complicated. While tells you where you can watch what, it’s less than user friendly. For those of you out there who don’t normally hang out on the NBC Universal family dial — navigating up to Oxygen, and over to CNBC and down to USA will drive you absolutely batty and is a bad user experience.

Though I’m talking about the cable and broadcast pieces here, there’s a parallel issue with online video, the Olympics coverage, and the way NBC is handling both — highlights the challenge of serving up premium content in a fragmented marketplace.

My suggestion: carefully track your own Olympics consumption and that of your loved ones. Take away the positives and the negatives of the experience and apply them to your own online video efforts. This is a live test for all of us. Pay attention because it’ll be nearly impossible not to learn something.

The Ugly: Hard to Monetize

In this case, even the ugly has a bit of a Silverlight lining. Interestingly, Microsoft decided to go with Silverlight as the media player for the games, meaning this will be a trial by fire for the player. Microsoft set up Silverlight so it has four simultaneous streams, which is pretty amazing, and will certainly bolster Silverlight’s installed base of users — and also leads to some curiosity as to just how this particular deal got done.

Also for the inside baseball scorekeepers in the audience, this development is a big hit for Adobe, which would have loved to have its Flash player gaining more universal adoption. But the real “ugly” here is the ad model, which highlights how far we still need to go to get online video up off of the bottom of the media planning stack and into the realm of the must buy.

Due to a series of technological issues, foremost among those the difficulty of inserting video ads in-stream into live events, the ad unit you are most likely to see while watching the games will be a display ad inserted during dead zones of the coverage. I understand the bills need to be paid somehow, but a display ad in the middle of live (and possibly HD) Olympics coverage doesn’t seem to be good for at least two of the three constituents in that value exchange — the user will sit there and think that it’s lame, while the marketer will be losing the attention of that user. So the only winner is NBC — and that doesn’t make for a sustainable model.

Looking past the actual iteration of the advertising, the technology pairing behind it is perhaps the most interesting combination of all.

Despite their ongoing warfare in the battle for everything else, most manifest in the fight for Yahoo — the team powering the advertising for the Olympics is a Google-Microsoft combo. Google’s DoubleClick will be serving the ads. That these two giants are finding a way to work together suggests we might just be able to create our own little on-demand and monetizable global world of content after all.

So here’s to the Olympics and that they may actually be the watershed moment for us all. Go Team USA!

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