The following text is copyright 2008 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.


The last pre-Internet Olympics?


By Scott Bradner


The Olympic spectacle and achievements are over for the next two years.  It was quite a show -- very beautiful opening and closing ceremonies (no way for Vancouver & London to even match them), also beautiful venues and some exciting competition.  I know this because I watched it on TV.  Next time I expect I will know the quality of the ceremony and competition because I will have seen it first on the Internet and, later, some of it on TV.


This time around I did not even think of checking out the streaming video coverage - I should have, there were some good things there but not nearly enough.  NBC provided the excusive TV coverage (or at least they kept the other TV outlets to only providing all but snippets of coverage.  Published reports put the cost to NBC for this exclusivity was $894 M plus a bunch of millions in coverage expenses.  Spending close to a billion dollars for the coverage rights seems to have paid off for NBC since they seem to have sold about $1 B worth of advertising for the two weeks for a profit of close to $100 M - not bad for a 2-week show.  But almost none of it, only $5.75 M, came from the Internet.  This was still a made primarily for TV Olympics - maybe the last such.


After the Olympics were over I took a look at the NBC Olympic video website.  (  It is rather annoying that it requires you to install the Microsoft Silverlight plugin before you can look at the videos (something that I expect eliminated a lot of non-techies from their potential audience) but I will say that the videos do look rather good when you (finally) get to them.    The site has a lot of videos on it.  I'm not sure but they seem to cover all of the sports that were present at the games but some of the editing leaves a lot to be desired.  For example, there is about 8 minutes of random overhead, crowd, and competitors showing up shots at the beginning of the hour and 52 minute video of the women's individual event quarterfinals in archery, and it's 10 minutes into the video before the first shot if fired.  (I chose this video at random.)  NBC also do not need the quite disruptive Olympic rings graphic zooming across the screen when starting and stopping replays but I guess they learned that technique from TV football coverage.


But with all the good technology (and bad editing) NBC is apparently a timorous beastie.   (Maybe NBC stands for Not Being Courageous)  They were afraid to put most high profile videos up before they showed the competition during their prime time coverage (which tended to be very fragmented, jumping from sport to sport).  Somehow they must have thought that people watching a 5 x 8.5 inch video of the opening ceremony on their PC would skip watching it on their living room set.  (Or maybe they realized that watching 'as if you were there coverage' without inane paid-by-the-word announcers would spoil the viewers.)


Whatever the reason that drove NBC to chose to avoid giving their viewers better coverage I doubt it will happen next time.  I fully think that this was the last pre-Internet Olympics and that Vancouver in two years will be very different with the primary coverage for the lesser teams or sports will be live via the Internet.  I expect there still will be a lot of TV coverage, and that will generate far more ad revenue, but I also expect that the Internet ad revenue will become the key to NBC making a profit on future Olympics.


disclaimer: except for its investments, Harvard does not aim for a profit so would not have, and does not have, an opinion on NBC's timidity.