by Robert van Alstyne
The biggest story of London’s summer Olympics for many consumers in the US wasn’t Michael Phelps’s record-setting medal haul; it was frustration with their viewing options. Consumers howled on Twitter throughout the Games over the perceived shortcomings in NBC’s coverage, making #NBCFail a trendy hashtag in the process. Although the network hosted a record number of live online streams, they were largely inaccessible to consumers who had cut the cord on cable, leading to hurt feelings, especially among the vocal contingent of leading-edge consumers. The network further irked Olympics fans by repeatedly broadcasting key events on tape delay when live airings seemed like a reasonable option. Usain Bolt’s 100-meter gold-medal dash occurred at 4:50 p.m. EDT on a Sunday, yet anyone watching the Olympics solely on TV had no choice but to wait until hours later to catch it in primetime. The move rankled sports fans now accustomed to sharing instant live reactions to big events via social media.
The online uproar didn’t hurt NBC’s bottom line, however, as the Olympics set record ratings for the network and brought in enormous amounts of advertising revenue. Looking beyond the short-term business win, will negativity from wannabe watchers damage NBC’s long-term Olympics prospects or its brand?
The Olympics aren’t your typical television event. Emotions around the Games run high for all involved, including viewers, many of whom — rightly or wrongly — perceive unfettered access to the Games as something of an inalienable right. As digital-native Millennials make their way into adulthood, they’ll be increasingly belligerent toward brands they perceive as operating with a backward media mindset and “unjustly” limiting access. Smart brands must continually reassess content strategies with an eye toward both present broadcast-TV-centered fiscal realities and a far more fluid online programming future.