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What the Industry and Rio Olympic Games Can Learn from #NBCFail

Posted by Jeff Hasen on August 22nd, 2012 at 6:32 am

Rather than consider the following a delayed analysis of the much tweeted-about NBC Olympics London telecast, think of this as a preview of the Rio Games four years hence.

NBC would certainly spin it that way.

By now, you know that members of the “loudmouth minority” have railed against NBC for delaying the airing of the Summer Games despite making promises that all but the ceremonies would be shown live somewhere.

I was especially aghast after seeing on Twitter the result of Usain Bolt’s 9.63 second 100-meter win before what NBC presented to us as a live stream was sent to American viewers on computers, or in my case, an iPad.

Former President Bill Clinton famously said, "It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is.”

In so many words, NBC said “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘live’ is.”

Recently, Today executive producer, Jim Bell, who also was the Games' executive producer, dismissed the criticism, again incorrectly stating in a Hollywood Reporter interview that “everything was live.”

Why is it such a big deal? Why can’t I be content with 5,500 hours from London, unprecedented as far as Olympics are concerned?

Because we live in real time. Even a delay of 9.63 seconds matters.

If you think I’m wrong, imagine the uproar if the results of the Academy Awards were shown somewhere 10 seconds before the announcements were made on the telecast.

In my house, if I shouted out the winners 10 seconds early, my wife would kick me out in Olympic record fashion. And she would be right.

Live is live. It is 2012.

Which brings us to 2016 and Rio.

According to the Associated Press, NBC chief researcher Alan Wurtzel says that two-thirds of people who knew the results ahead of NBC's tape-delayed telecast said they would watch the events anyway. People who watched the events earlier in the day via computer stream watched the tape-delayed broadcast for a longer time than those who hadn't.

Hello. This presents some pretty obvious implications for the industry.

ESPN, which knows a bit about sports programming, uses tape only for highlights – or so it seems.

“Sports are all about live,” John Kosner, who leads all of ESPN’s digital media properties, told me in my book, Mobilized Marketing: Driving Sales, Engagement, and Loyalty Through Mobil Devices http://www.amazon.com/Mobilized-Marketing-Engagement-Loyalty-Through/dp/1118243269/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1345130944&sr=8-1&keywords=hasen+mobile. “You have to watch and experience the game live. You want to talk about it while it’s happening. You want more information about the game or other games taking place at the same time. That’s all central.”

Real-time interaction in and out of the venue enhances the event, according to Kosner.

“The development of these social networks and utilities like Twitter take it up a level because it makes it apparent that much more is possible. Location-based content, the sharing of photos, the ability to watch video, and more.”

Michael Bayle, now Senior Vice President and General Manager of Mobile at ESPN, says that the convergence of mobile and social changed the time-shifting model almost as fast as it appeared.

“I would argue that’s the biggest interruption that has happened is because of the success of mobile,” he says. “One to three years ago, one could comfortably record their favorite NBA game, baseball game, what have you, and then relax and come home at night and watch it—and choose if you wish to forward through the commercials and just get to the highlights. That’s almost impossible now because of mobile and the instant access to Twitter and other means of social media.

“Unless someone is terribly blind or deaf, it precludes any chance to go and rewatch a game safely. You almost now have to have a live environment.”

Bayle, who has been in mobile so long that some consider him a lifer, believes that social, mobile, and the fan are forever linked.

“Social is critical to be successful in as much as fans by nature will be social, either touting or taunting their friends or loved ones or even finding new friends just by the nature of how people rally around teams so to speak,” he says. “I think there’s a concept here . . . of the concept of the ‘game around the game.’”

Bayle sees more interaction between fans and ESPN personalities, providing more opportunities for marketers to be part of the bond that only sports bring.

“The goal with our mobile teams is to improve the access to fans and to real-time interact with that content,” he says.

Real time. It’s not a nebulous concept despite what NBC wants us to believe.

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