Wednesday, August 8. 2012
If, like me, you're interested in the future of what I'll loosely call TV, the coverage of the Olympics has been... sporty shall we say. But the coverage of the coverage of the Olympics has been fascinating.
In particular the contrast between the BBC and NBC and their strategies. I know they have different imperatives, and different timezones. NBC is a commercial station and must try to make a profit. Although you can politically sway the terms, the BBC is essentially funded by a national tax on television sets (the license fee that everyone in the UK must pay if they watch broadcast live TV). For the BBC the Olympics is in is home country, for NBC the Olympics starts at ungodly o'clock (coverage here starts at 6am UK time and really kicks off at 9am, that's 1am and 4am on the East Coast). And so on.
But the philosophy of how they're covering the games is also rather different.
The BBC has embraced twitter and the like, and is broadcasting everything live, and tagged so you can follow the events you want. There are two all-day Olympic TV channels (BBC One and BBC Three) and via the red button, iPhone App (well over 1 million downloads a week ago) and BBC website you can also follow any event that is currently happening live. The website and iPhone apps also offer a good catch-up and summary service. BBC One, in the late evening, offers a daily round-up. They also offer clips via their YouTube channel. If you missed or just want to rewatch "James Bond and the Queen from the opening ceremony for example, you can join the 1.3 million people (at the time of writing) who watched it that way. According to one report, some of the event commentators are putting in 18 hour days, day after day while their specialist event is running. On the first Saturday 55% of streaming requests came from phones and tablets rather than desktop and laptop browsers. And if you want to know more about all the work that's gone into this, you should read this article on The Next Web and this one by the woman in charge of the BBC's Olympic coverage.
NBC, by contrast, is showing live content to a small minority of its premium customers and everything else on tape delay. OK, for a yachting medal that's decided at 8am NY time there might be a reason for that (although I'm sure sailors in the US will get up early to watch it given the chance) but delaying the Mens 100m final that went out in the afternoon US time... come on. I enjoy sports coverage as background when I'm working, so I've had quite a bit of the Olympics on. I like some sports - sailing for example, so I've made the effort to watch the coverage. But even if, like me, you're not bothered about athletics, the 100m final is one of those iconic things that you will try to watch.
I'm sure NBC is fairly happy with its coverage. Audience figures are up and they're selling enough advertising and getting enough extra premium subscribers to anticipate a small profit. They'll smugly pat themselves on the back and move on. In fact, according to one report NBC say their coverage is doing the best it has since 1976 (that would include two US-based Olympic games!) so I'm sure they'll be very smug about it.
In the mean time... a different report paints a very different picture. AnchorFree is a VPN service that helps you set up a server in a different country so you can ignore their geographical detection and limitation services. Expat Shield is their service for people requesting a UK address and globally demand has risen by 212%, while in the US it's risen by a huge 1849%! They're now handling well over 6,500 requests per day for just this service. Lets say, conservatively, that's 2,000 people per day from the US requesting this service and enjoying coverage from someone other than NBC. I'm sure some, maybe even many, of them will go back after the Olympics is over. But that's still over 30,000 households that NBC have annoyed enough to make them find out how to do this and install extra software on their computer to do it. I wonder how many of them will enjoy being citizens of the world and watching what they want on local coverage? I wonder how many of us will, globally by the time Rio rolls around. And how well the various TV companies will be doing by then.
Oh, and although it's a bit early to tell, today's Olympic coverage on the BBC included an advert for its football coverage for the next season (which starts not long from now). It looks like they're going to, while not keeping the live broadcasts for which they don't have rights, still maintain a strong presence across TV, red button, browsing and phone/tablet apps. Definitely moving forwards.
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