#NBCFail: spoilers feed prime time, ‘silent majority’ happy, NBC says

Record-breaking Olympics audiences across all NBC platforms suggests “the silent majority” of viewers are perfectly satisfied with its coverage, the under-pressure broadcaster on Thursday told reporters it convened to address criticism dubbed “#NBCFail“.

“We’ve had some challenges,” NBC Sport chair Mark Lazarus conceded. “They’ve been documented by some of you and some of our critics in social media. Some of it is, in fact, fair and we are listening. We knew it wouldn’t be perfect and we said that before the games – we are trying new things.”

Prime-time loves spoilers:

NBC, whose merger partner Comcast ranks #26 in this year’s paidContent 50 list, has been ridiculed online for holding back live events for U.S. prime time whilst online chatter and news reports give away results to online users. But NBC research president Alan Wurtzel said results of a 1,000-viewer survey conducted on Sunday showed:

“Forty-three percent said they’d heard about results of Olympic events … but they said they were more likely to watch the prime time coverage that night than those who hadn’t.”

Wurtzel said a second survey showed:

“Viewers who streamed live events on Saturday were nearly twice as likely to watch the prime-time broadcast, and spent 50 percent more time watching that those who didn’t stream.”

Still, NBC aims to try harder not to spoil its own coverage, after some company tweets gave away event results. “We’re learning as we go here,” Lazarus said. “We meet every morning to go over what we’ve learned. We’re talking about tweaking the timings and how we push out.”

NBC digital stats:

Wurtzel presented stats showing 64 million total video streams served across all platforms, while regular TV viewing has outperformed NBC’s Beijing games for six consecutive nights, Wurtzel said, suggesting it is benefitting from a halo effect from other platforms. See the full online viewing breakdown.

‘Minority’ see ‘fail’:

NBC is streaming all of the games at NBCOlympics.com.

But has variously been mocked for tape delays, replacing sensitive opening-ceremony scenes with commercials, poor commentary, for the website requiring cable authentication and for Twitter temporarily suspending a user for tweeting an NBC executive’s email address.

Lazarus defended:

“Everyone has got the right to have their point of view. The overwhelming majority of the people are voting with their clickers, fingertips and mousclicks and saying ‘we enjoy what you do’.

“We listen to (the criticism of a) very loud minority. But the silent majority has been with us for the last six days.”

The defense, of course, exposes the overarching importance of television’s old prime time advertising slot in an emerging IP world that, at least to fans who care enough, has so much more potential for real-time immediacy.

Old and new

Lazarus drew attention to NBC’s online Olympics commitment, enhanced from Beijing:

“No one’s ever done this much simultaneous live streaming before.  We are doing a lot of experimentation, we will continue to do that. We are mixing tradition and innovation.

“There are so many events going on, you physically cannot do everything live. All the events are available through the streaming to cable customers – that’s 90 percent of the consumer base.

“We’re archiving the best of these live events for our prime time show – that’s traditional – (pulling out the) story arcs. The Olympics is so much more than a sporting event.

“Not everyone is going to be happy – but it’s clear (viewers) are coming in droves and staying night after night. We believe we’re doing everything we can to satisfy the majority of our viewers – the results bear out.”

He made non-specific reference to how things might change in future: “By 2020, the one thing we know for sure is that the media’s going to change.” But the bigger change, fortunately for NBC, is that the next games, in Rio, will be on a more accommodating time zone.

“Rio will be live,” Lazarus said. “Sochi (2014 Winter Olympics), we’ll have to wait and see where they schedule the events and what time that translates to here. Our preference is live in prime time where we can.”

In a 24-hour world, it seems 8pm-to-11pm is still where the money is. Lazarus said NBC, which had initially forecast to lose $200 million on the Olympics, will do far better:  “We’ve made significant incremental money and will now be around breakeven. There’s a small chance we could make a little bit of money – we’ll know over the next few weeks.”