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Even Senators Hated NBC Universal's Olympic Coverage

from the ouch dept

With NBC Universal already under a fair amount of scrutiny by the Senate, as it seeks to merge with Comcast, it seems that it's antiquated broadcast schedule of the recent Olympics isn't helping matters. Senator Herb Kohl apparently sent a letter to NBC Universal boss Jeff Zucker, asking him to explain why NBC Universal's Olympic coverage was so incredibly lame. More specifically, he questioned if NBC's incredibly restrictive online Olympics video (much more restricted than two years ago at the Beijing summer Olympics) is a preview of "what is to come with respect to TV programming shown on the Internet."

While it may be a bit of a stretch to connect the two, it does seem like particularly poor timing and bad strategy by NBC Universal officials. Just as they're trying to convince the Senate (and others) that of course their content will be widely available in a post-merger world, they thought it would make sense to massively restrict the content shown during the Olympics -- including requiring viewers to first prove they had cable TV access from certain cable providers? And no one at NBC Universal thought that the loud complaints all over the internet about the ridiculous process and restrictions might wake up someone in the Senate?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    vastrightwing, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 1:09pm

    A slight mis-calculation

    And no one at NBC Universal thought that the loud complaints all over the internet about the ridiculous process and restrictions might wake up someone in the Senate?

    No, because NBC spends a lot of money donating to campaigns and has lots of PAC groups to make sure this sort of thing won't happen. They simply mis-calculated how much this would cost. Don't worry, they will fix this (not the programming).

     

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  2.  
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    Mikestr, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 1:27pm

    CTV knew how to do it right.

    Not to brag, but CTV, the Canadian Olympics broadcaster definitely got this one right and set a good example of how these types of events should be covered.
    From the beginning, every moment and every event was broadcast live on CTVOlympics.ca. This includes events broadcast on the networks (CTV, TSN, Sportsnet, etc) which included the colour commentary & commercials, or you could watch the "World Feed" without commentary and no commercials except the one preceding your feed view.

    On top of all that, all the feeds included PVR like controls allowing you to rewind, pause or ffwd. You can also go back to any event on any day and watch whatever you might have missed or want to rewatch.

    Unfortunately, I believe the feeds were limited to Canadian IPs which made me glad to finally have a Canadian IP and *not* miss out like I usually do with HULU, Comedy Central, etc.

     

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  3.  
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    Overcast (profile), Mar 1st, 2010 @ 1:33pm

    Who cares? Didn't watch any of it, don't want to watch it online. They can keep it all.

    Wonder if they have a 'record low' viewership this time around?

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Bob, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 1:37pm

    Closing Exercises of 2010 Winter Games

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Bob, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 1:37pm

    Closing Exercises of 2010 Winter Games

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 1:48pm

    Re:

    According to The Hollywood Reporter, viewership was the highest since the 1994 games; i.e., viewership was great.

    I am still waiting to see results for the hockey game yesterday, but preliminary buzz was that NBC's coverage was great and viewership was beyond expectations.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 1:54pm

    Re:

    Sports Business Journal is reporting that Sunday's hockey game was the highest rated hockey game in the U.S. since 1980. Seems like NBC did all right.

    http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/wintergames/

     

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  8.  
    icon
    mjb5406 (profile), Mar 1st, 2010 @ 1:55pm

    And the winner is...

    Most annoying was NBC's decision to delay broadcasting high-profile events until prime time, hours after the results were known (i.e. we knew about Lindsy Vonn's crashes probably even before SHE did). Even more galling, though, were the stupid comments of people who felt that the media delay reporting the results until NBC aired the event! DUH.

    And why did NBC's viewership go up? Because, wisely, other networks aired reruns knowing their audiences would be diverted by the Olympics. So, the rise in viewership is somewhat artificial.

     

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  9.  
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    milrtime83 (profile), Mar 1st, 2010 @ 1:56pm

    Re: Re:

    I think part of the high viewership is that the other networks aired reruns during most primetime hours and there was nothing else to watch.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 1:58pm

    Can't solve the deficit, but they can program?

    Seems like we have way bigger issues for the Senate to focus on rather than the operations of NBC. I guess if you are unable to solve some of the big issues that this country faces, you can always focus on a television network. If nothing else, it might be comedy relief. No. Wait. Congress is comedy relief. Maybe they are looking for a substitute.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 2:01pm

    Re: And the winner is...

    If the behavior of audiences is to watch the Olympics rather than new shows, how can the increase be "artificial"? I know many people who did not watch the Olympics because they were uninterested. Bottom line: If you like sports and the Olympics over whatever was opposite the Olympics, then you were going to tune in to the Olympics. Seems like there is little "artificial" about how people behave during the Olympics.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Todd, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 2:01pm

    Re: CTV knew how to do it right.

    I would agree. I could see anything I wanted to see at any time of day or night and be in control of what I was seeing. A new standard for olympic coverage.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 2:04pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    lol...So your business strategy is to hope your competitor does not compete? I suspect the other networks knew that many of their viewers were going to be watching the Olympics and wisely decided against wasting new episodes in competing against an event as popular as the Olympics. The high viewership was because of the Olympics, not because of the failure of the other networks to compete. You will note that there were new shows on during the Olympics, including new "Idol" episodes.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    ppartekim, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 2:05pm

    The O-Games were on... so what

    Didn't watch it online or TV. Didn't care and sure as heck didn't want to "hurt" any of the athletes by speaking about them since I didn't pay the Olympics for the rights.

    Whoops, I didn't mean to say that word. Guess, I'll be hearing from someone now..

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    treborap, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 2:06pm

    Re: Can't solve the deficit, but they can program?

    ditto...if the senator thinks he can do better, then it's a free market. Go start your own network or get a job running a network. He need not complain about NBC when I'm sure he gets plenty of letters to his office asking why Congress is "so incredibly lame."

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Simon, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 2:10pm

    Re: Re: CTV knew how to do it right.

    Bell Expressvu had hi-def (or at least as hi-def as Bell can do - but that's another story) feeds of the events live. There were on PPV channels, but there was no charge. It was great - no commercials and no commentary. We watched the hockey final this way and it was far more immersive.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 2:10pm

    One word: Silverlight.

     

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  18.  
    icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Mar 1st, 2010 @ 2:15pm

    Re: Re: Can't solve the deficit, but they can program?

    "ditto...if the senator thinks he can do better, then it's a free market. Go start your own network or get a job running a network. He need not complain about NBC when I'm sure he gets plenty of letters to his office asking why Congress is "so incredibly lame.""

    To be fair, the guy does have extensive knowledge of sports entertainment. Of all the Senators to pick on them, he's probably one of the most qualified....

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    z, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 2:19pm

    All was available live online. This was a given, they knew this would happen. Still, NBC gave us no choice. Perfect chance to use p2p streaming. Nope. Instead, spoon fed tapes, boring analysis.
    So I went elsewhere, and I never enjoyed the Olympics more, getting a taste of Canada, Britain, Aussie, French coverage, and the great Olympic feed with only the sounds from the venue.
    It was exciting, like a personal line to the live action.
    It was great.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Im just sayin', Mar 1st, 2010 @ 2:25pm

    Re: Re:

    Yeah they finally aired a live event and look what happened.
    Also, it was a good fun story. It would have been hard to miss this one even given their other crappy job. No excitement or participation, just highlights.

     

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  21.  
    icon
    Steven (profile), Mar 1st, 2010 @ 2:47pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    You should also note that the Olympics didn't necessarily beat Idol. Overall it looks like Idol did better, and definitively better in terms of ratings.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Ryan, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 3:25pm

    Re: Re: And the winner is...

    I think you...maybe missed the point? His suggestion is that in anticipation of viewer habits, the other networks chose to take the easier/less risky route and for the most part cede the air to NBC for the duration of the Olympics. This does not mean that the Olympics would have drawn the same number of viewers had popular counter-programming been available; however, it was a somewhat self-fulfilling prophecy.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    NAMELESS.ONE, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 3:38pm

    CTV sucks

    ya want to plug them fine but they cant program either they are almost in bankruptcy themselves
    and any moron could do the little bit they could wiht all that ad money they get for it.

    AND i'll add they are the hollywood pitch for copyrights in canada and watching them = support for ACTA

     

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  24.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Mar 1st, 2010 @ 4:02pm

    Re: Re: Can't solve the deficit, but they can program?

    then it's a free market. Go start your own network or get a job running a network.

    Uh, no. Network TV is not a free market because the gov't (which, yes, includes our Senators) allocated spectrum to certain networks. And that, yes, does give them something of a say in how they're operated.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 4:07pm

    How is what NBC did with their online coverage one teensy bit different than how ESPN360 does things? A move, incidentally, which appears to be supported by this very blog (http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20060802/1132240.shtml)

    With the government getting involved and all, you'd think that NBC was violating some constitutionally-protected right to watch the Olympics online.

     

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  26.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Mar 1st, 2010 @ 4:20pm

    Re:

    How is what NBC did with their online coverage one teensy bit different than how ESPN360 does things? A move, incidentally, which appears to be supported by this very blog (http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20060802/1132240.shtml)

    No, our position was that there was nothing that violated "net neutrality" in what ESPN did, but we didn't say that it was a smart business move.

    But NBC and ESPN are two different things. ESPN is a cable channel. NBC is a network television station that has been given gov't subsidies in the form of spectrum.

    Very different.

    With the government getting involved and all, you'd think that NBC was violating some constitutionally-protected right to watch the Olympics online.

    Only if you didn't read carefully. The question here is whether or not NBC will continue to do this after a Comcast merger. Since part of the question over the merger is whether or not it will make life worse for consumers (somethign I *disagree with* -- I'm all for the merger) it does seem like a relevant question for the Senate to ask: whether or not more NBC content will be restricted like it did with the Olympics.

     

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  27.  
    icon
    mrtraver (profile), Mar 1st, 2010 @ 5:52pm

    Re: A slight mis-calculation

    BAD politician - he didn't STAY bought!

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Dan, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 5:57pm

    Re: Re: Re: Can't solve the deficit, but they can program?

    Everyone has ignored the senator's point.

    NBC/Comcast merger = less competition = NBC does whatever lame thing it wants due to lack of competition

    Don't know if I agree with it, but there it is.

    Maybe if Congress would say no to this merger, NBC would get the idea that maybe they shouldn't piss off so many John Q's with their outdated monopolistic practices.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 1st, 2010 @ 6:07pm

    ESPN is a cable channel. NBC is a network television station that has been given gov't subsidies in the form of spectrum. Very different.

    With regard to regular television, yes. With regard to the Internet, I don't see the distinction.

    it does seem like a relevant question for the Senate to ask: whether or not more NBC content will be restricted like it did with the Olympics.

    They didn't restrict their broadcast coverage - everyone watching NBC on their TV saw the same thing, regardless of how they received the signal. If they restricted their Olympics broadcast coverage to Comcast subscribers (and made non-Comcast subscribers watch more reruns of Law and Order), then you'd have a point. But unless online content is covered by their FCC license, I still don't see how the government has an interest in what NBC does or does not do online.

     

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  30.  
    icon
    mjb5406 (profile), Mar 1st, 2010 @ 6:24pm

    Re:

    The point Senator Kohl is making is that a good portion of coverage was on USA, Universal HD, CNBC and MSNBC which ONLY cable subscribers can get. Granted... much of that was the excitement of curling, but it still eliminated some from being able to view the events. Top that off with their overly-restrictive online coverage and you have a group of disenfranchised people who could not watch simply becuse they do not have/want cable.

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Ben, Mar 2nd, 2010 @ 1:15am

    Looking for funding...

    And this is where Kohl suddenly gets a contribution from NBC for his campaign fund.

    Maybe they can help fund his idiotic high speed rail project. Or maybe it has something to do with Comcast. Or any of the other crap ways these Senators like to spend our money.

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2010 @ 5:29am

    Re: Re: Re: And the winner is...

    I agree with you that fewer people would have watched the Olympics had new programs been opposite the Olympics. However, 50 years of televising the Olympics has shown that the Olympics siphons off huge numbers of viewers from their usual shows, which then causes a decrease in revenue for the other networks. Essentially, they realized that they were unable to maintain anywhere close to the same number of viewers they normally would in competition with the Olympics. Given that ratings king "American Idol" lost out to the Olympics on one night and had reduced viewership on other nights, it appears that even a new show loses viewers to the Olympics. If you know or believe you are going to lose a significant percentage of your audience to the Olympics, say 20% or more, then why waste a new show?

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2010 @ 5:30am

    Re: Re: Re: Can't solve the deficit, but they can program?

    Then how are so many networks able to start so easily on cable? I have more than 200 channels on my cable, and it seems like there is one or two more new ones every year.

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2010 @ 5:32am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Can't solve the deficit, but they can program?

    But, I see one point. As you properly noted, it was one senator, not "Senators."

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2010 @ 11:05am

    For all the supposed "hatred"...

    NBC was a ratings juggernaut throughout the games. NBC's telecast was the second highest winter Olympics ratings of all time. Essentially, none of the other networks came anywhere near NBC.

    Question: If none of the complainers were watching, then who was?

    Answer: Apparently the most valuable demographics with respect to actually buying stuff.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20100302/tv_nm/us_olympics

    http://www.rbr.com/tv-cable/tv-ca ble_ratings/21832.html

    If the massive ratings NBC got, pulling in tons of people, is the result of "terrible" programming, just what does that mean for the future? I am thinking that NBC got exactly what it expected in terms of viewers, which leaves NBC exactly zero incentive to make any changes.

     

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