NBC gives Olympic fans a ‘live’ line on the Internet

For the first time, every significant sporting event will be shown live online.

Last Wednesday, exactly 100 days before the Opening Ceremonies at the Summer Olympics in London, NBC relaunched its website What is newsworthy about that this year is that NBC, for the first time, will show every significant sporting event live online — even marquee events that will be featured later on prime-time television.

This is a departure for NBC, which has taken heat in the past for not giving viewers the chance to watch enough Olympics events live, as the network feared cannibalizing its viewing audience for the prime-time broadcasts. The issue has been particularly relevant here in Western New York, where we have the option of switching to Olympic coverage from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., which has always placed a premium on live coverage. The CBC, obviously, focuses on Canadian athletes and teams, but it is a nice secondary choice for viewers in this neck of the woods.

NBC and its corporate overlords have made a smart decision this year by giving “live” fans what they want — online, at least — in a way that is likely going to add more viewers to its prime-time audience, not subtract.

The online stream of live events is going to be from the world TV feed, which is kind of a bare-bones broadcast, sometimes with no announcers to narrate the action. If you are a major fan of, say, women’s gymnastics, and the finals you’ve been waiting for are taking place at 3 in the afternoon Buffalo time, you have the option of following the broadcast feed from your computer, at home or work. (And remember, kids, always get permission from your boss before watching sports in the office).

Once an event is shown live, it will be not be archived on the website until after it has been shown on TV.

NBC is counting on the fact that, even knowing who won or lost, you will turn on the TV during prime time to watch gymnastics get the full treatment. (Unless you are a purist who will only watch live events, but that’s a pommel horse of a different color.) The network is always an easy target for critics because of the way it draws out the broadcasts of the most popular events, adding stories about the athletes’ lives and their road to the Games. But after watching the world TV feed online, most viewers will welcome the perspective and production values of the prime-time TV show.

“The biggest part of our Olympic pitch to the IOC is that the Olympics is not really about the sports that are showcased,” Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development for NBC, told CNBC’s Darren Rovell. “It’s really about telling a story and packaging that story. Not many people would watch without that context.”

There’s one other aspect to NBC’s website launch that is sort of buried in the fine print. This year, viewing live content online requires a viewer to “authenticate” that he or she is a customer of a cable or satellite company, which requires logging in with the account number from one’s TV provider. That is to keep the “I don’t own a TV” crowd — and you know who you are — from helping themselves to the online content that costs money for the network to produce.

CBS did the same with its March Madness online package this year, requiring viewer authentication. Perhaps “information wants to be free,” as the old web credo says, but media companies — like most of us — want to get paid.

Trial TV

Fans of Olympic sports won’t have to wait until the Games begin in late July to start getting in the mood. NBC will televise a record 67 hours of Olympic Trials coverage this year, both on Channel 2 and on NBC Sports Network.

Jenn Suhr, the Fredonia native who won a silver medal in pole vaulting at the Beijing Games four years ago, will be among the competitors at the track and field trials in late June. NBC and NBCSN will air live coverage from Oregon on June 22-24 and June 28 to July 1.

Suhr, the top-ranked woman in the world, will need to finish among the top three in the U.S. trials in order to secure a spot in London.


By Greg Connors

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