The Olympics for TV executives is upon us. The main event is to seamlessly maintain viewers for regular television while transitioning them to the direct-to-consumer world.
Although NBC is presenting the Games with its usual sound, though saccharine-laced, coverage, it feels like you are doing a heptathlon trying to find what you want to watch.
So far, NBC is not earning gold.
Everything is on, but nothing can be found.
As the philosopher Chris “Mad Dog” Russo said, “If you are going to make it difficult and you are going to make me work for it and pay for it to see it, I’m out of there.”
And so fewer people are watching these Olympics. The ratings are down from five years ago. There are a few reasons why, starting with a couple that are outside of NBC’s control.
First, the 13-hour time difference between Tokyo and the United States’ East Coast is always a bear for Olympic television. This, coupled with the pandemic raging in Japan, has caused the venues to be nearly fan-less, resulting in a less-inspiring experience.
And then there is the Netflixization of viewing that has trained consumers to search for what they want, when they want it and, to watch, without interruption.
Even if you find your Olympics event on NBC, which is where the network gears its prime-time programming, the commercials are incessant. On a 13-hour tape delay, with the world knowing Simone Biles checked out of team gymnastics to focus on her mental health, NBC went to commercial mid-sentence after her last vault. The billion dollars NBC pays for the Summer Games is not going to pay itself.
NBC has done some memorable work, led by Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines’ call of 17-year-old Lydia Jacoby winning gold in the 100-meter breaststroke. That was followed by video from Seward, Alaska, of Jacoby’s hometown classmates, family and friends cheering her on. The preparation and execution was Olympic-worthy.
The business of trying to transition the Olympics to the direct-to-consumer digital age is upon us — and it is tricky. Executives are trying to convert you to Peacock, which is NBC’s version of Netflix but with live sports as a differentiator.
NBC needs to put compelling events on Peacock to make people become first-time and then — hopefully, for them — lifetime subscribers. They have done this with the French Open, Premier League Soccer and golf — annoying many of their most loyal fans along the way. That is why USA basketball is live on Peacock.
NBC will take the PR hit, as long as it gets your credit card information.
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And this all gets back to distribution, which is historically why certain media outlets have won. Before the internet made it so anyone could disseminate information from anywhere, NBC basically owned the distribution of the Olympics so it could get away with the ultimate chutzpah term, “plausibly live,” in the ’90s and then have the full 2000 Australia Olympics shown on tape delay.
Back then, you could still have spoilers if you tuned into SportsCenter, put the radio on at the wrong time or really searched the then-burgeoning internet.
Now, though, the second Biles was out of the Olympics, it was everywhere, on our site, notifications on your phone, social media, TV and radio. The news found you.
NBC didn’t show the video during the “Today” show, which is understandable business-wise, but not if that is really supposed to be a news program. Its coverage included Hoda Kotb yelling down to Biles saying, “I love you.”
I saw Kotb on “Today,” and then when LA Times sports columnist Helene Elliott tweeted that Kotb turned to the crowd and said, “Don’t you love Simone Biles?” Elliott added, “Except there really isn’t a crowd.”
That’s the issue for NBC executives now and going forward. The Olympics are everywhere, but they are harder than ever to find.
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