NBC's Crippled Online Olympics Coverage Attracts Small Audience

from the surprise! dept

NBC apparently got about 72 million video streams during this Olympics season, and is touting this as a great success. It’s true that this is a lot more than any previous Olympics, but I don’t think NBC has anything to crow about. Remember, this is the most famous sporting event in the world, and it got non-stop media coverage for close to a month. Yet in a country with 300 million people, they only got a total of 72 million streams? That’s less than one stream for every 4 Americans. And as Ben Worthen points out, YouTube streamed 4.2 billion videos—60 times as many—in the month of May. So people are clearly watching a lot of videos. Most of them just aren’t NBC’s Olympics videos.

Amazingly, NBC is “using the Olympics to assert that TV is the preferred medium of consumers,” with 93 percent of all viewing. I think this says less about consumers than about NBC’s own marketing decisions. The problem is that despite its protests to the contrary, NBC wasn’t serious about web-based coverage of the Olympics. They held back the most popular coverage for television audiences, forcing online viewers to wait until later (sometimes much later due to a desire for tape delays) to watch the stuff they were really interested in. It looks like they also forced anyone who wanted to watch the video to download and install Microsoft’s Silverlight plugin. And of course they’ve gone out of their way to make embedding impossible, cutting off one of the most popular ways of expanding the reach of content. Not surprisingly, when NBC makes the Internet a second-class medium for Olympics coverage, most people watch TV instead.

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Comments on “NBC's Crippled Online Olympics Coverage Attracts Small Audience”

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Jake says:

All the same, getting a bit more than 20% of the population of an entire country to tune into one single event -even spread across several days- isn’t a bad achievement in this day and age. (I was going to say something witty about obesity in the United States here, but damned if I can think of anything at 03:15, so you’ll just have to imagine I did.)

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Two point to note here:

1. The articles mention 72 million *streams*, not 72 million unique users. The actual number of viewers was probably a lot less, so it’s not really a major achievement.

2. Even if it was, the argument isn’t that the numbers were low in an of themselves. It’s that NBC are trying to pretend that the numbers indicate that people want to watch TV more. The counter-argument here is that there were a number of silly moves (delayed broadcast, requirement for an unpopular and undesirable plugin, no embedding) that reduced the number of potential online viewers greatly. The figures mean pretty much nothing other than people prefer TV to an unnecessarily delayed and restricted online stream – no surprise there.

Rickler says:

Still tunning in

When will the day come when we can just sit on the couch, turn on the TV, sift through some menus.. genre -> show -> season -> episode. And just start watching what we want when we want. It’s clear the major network providers are don’t want this to happen. They are nothing more than a middle man buying shows and airing them.

joe says:

I have silverlight on my Mac for MLB baseball. It’s ok, but it does seem to make my connection drop occasionally. NBCOlympics.com was run by MSN, by the way, who make some of the worst designs for a major company.

the problem I saw with NBCOlympics.com was:

a) results right on the home page – many hours before TV coverage in most cases due to the overnight events, blowing any element of surprise. They should have had a splash page cookie: do you want results or suspense?

b) terrible layout – it was often hard to find video. Full video was jumbled with recap/highlight video. Also, it was as if video was NOT the focus of the site. Go figure. There was a ‘LIVE’ text link next to sports that were live online at that time.

c) no commentary on many live streams. I noticed NO NBC commentary – thus giving no context of what I was watching. Graphics seemed limited to what was provided by the official feeds, so again, little context. There was some commentary available on highlight videos.

No wonder NBC claim people watched TV. The website stunk.

Most pre-roll ads I saw were for NBC parent GE, who supplied China heavily with infrastruture for the games.

I will give NBC props for the all HD footage on the various TV Channels (except Telemundo, which despite having an HD channel in LA, chose to use SD format)

My grades: TV: A- website: C-

Stan says:

Not Limited to NBC

NBC’s narrow-minded and stingy restrictions just led me to find other coverage, and the BBC showed a lot of events that NBC didn’t even try to touch. My Olympic viewing was broader and more varied because of NBC, but they can’t count me in their numbers.

And because London is hours ahead of even the East coast, I saw many events before NBC aired them. It’s sad that many of us Americans still believe the major networks when they claim to have a monopoly on coverage.

ECA (profile) says:


I saw their numbers for TV, and they are NOT CORRECT.
I can Easily prove that 20% of the USA didnt have/want access.
I can also show that out of the 60% saturation of internet access, that about 20% of that is DIAL UP, WHIch wont work with their movie data.

Their Demographics are WAY OFF. And they wont have FINAL data for AT LEAST 1 month. This is a wish list.

ehrichweiss says:

Re: YES,

The numbers don’t state that 20% of the USA had viewed them online, just that the number of streams would average out to about 1 stream per every 4 people. Far more likely 1 person watched 4 streams, reducing the percentage even further.

BTW, your info about dialup vs broadband is not entirely relevant. Statistics and probabilities don’t apply the way you might think in the real world since the game is changed if, for example, someone with dialup, or no home access at all, decides to go to the public library to watch them.

Clarence says:

NBC coverage was so sorry

I didn’t get to see ANY of the events I wanted to see as they happened and found that diving, interpretive dance, beach volleyball and synchronized swimming got more prime time than track and field and basketball which was what I wanted to see, so I saw very little of the Olympics as since everytime I switched to NBC something was on that I didn’t want to see, save Phelps, I simply turned off the TV or watched something else… caught up on 2 1/2 men though… funny show.

Mr. Blankpage says:

TV go bye bye

I chucked cable. TV programs aren’t worth what the cable companies charge. The sad thing is that they charge you for so called premium stations which tend to show more infomercials that regular stations. You’re paying to get ads. That’s one sad-assed setup. NBC is right to feel the fear.

Right now, I’m just using rabbit ears to get tv. When it all goes digital, my tv becomes merely a box for watching dvd’s. On the dozen or so channels I can get semi-regularly, I’m still not seeing anything that makes me say “I wish I had cable”. Quite the opposite in fact. The extra $85 per month is being well spent on other forms of entertainment now.

Sorry TV networks, you pooped in your own nest. Enjoy the reek.

Ryan says:

Wouldn't work for me

If you are in the U.S. military and stationed oversees that evidently means you can’t watch the NBCOlympics.com broadcasts. My IP shows I’m in a different country and for whatever reason an event that brings the entire world together can only be viewed by people that are in the land that I’m protecting. Imagine the irony that this creates. I was a little angry, I enjoy the olympics a great deal. I heard the U.S. did well, wish I could have cheered along as well even if it was delayed broadcasts…

An American Girl says:

Re: Wouldn't work for me

Ryan, since you are not in the USA you could have gotten the far superior BBC coverage. I tried hard to figure out how to use a proxy to see the BBC but never did.

You could have cheered along, you could have seen it life. I am stunned that no one on your base had that figured out. USA men I know are quite on top of those kind of things.

You had all the luck and wasted it. So sorry.

An American Girl

Anonymous Coward says:

Not limited to NBC

CBC’s coverage was pretty good – from what I saw, there was continuous tv coverage during the Olympics. They showed the events live and then rebroadcast them at prime time. Since they had a continual broadcast, you got to see things like fencing, the hammer throw, rowing and even equestrian dressage.
Their site had a large number of live streams as well as streaming video almost immediately after initial event. Only problem, the streams were taken from their TV broadcasts so they were frequently interrupted by commercials (way too often and the ads were much too long! – the recorded video streams had blank spaces instead of more ads). The French version of CBC had far superior commentary etc (it often has better programming). Tried RFI but had problems with their streams. ABC (Oz!) radio could only broadcast the Beeb during the Olympics – Beeb obviously bought the int’l English Rights

Sarah says:

Underwhelmed too

As a former (mediocre to bad) college club fencer, I looked forward to catching all of the Women’s Sabre competition online, as fencing generally doesn’t get more than the gold medal match aired (and that only if the US or a country we like is in the final). I downloaded Silverlight while holding my nose (My husband still has flashbacks to trying to write software with that POS back when it was called WPF). I started the prelims up (in all fairness silverlight itself worked okay, but was nothing to cheer about), and spent the next 15 minutes watching an empty piste, with no commentary (which i didn’t really expect), or even explanatory graphics like “competition starts in 10 minutes” (which I DID expect). the event FINALLY started (I fast-forwarded through the dead air), and we were treated to a view of two wee ants waving sticks at each other–the camera was simply locked down and turned on, and they’d placed it so far back that I don’t think I could have seen the actual bout on a regular TV, much less my laptop screen. I’ve seen PVC & duct tape sword duels on youtube with better production values. After about a minute of waiting for them to zoom in, or even put up a graphic saying who the two fighters were, I turned it off and never bothered trying it again.

Edward says:

NBC Coverage?

I found all of NBC’s coverage to be sorely lacking. The opening and closing ceremonies coverage was abysmal. Thankfully, I quickly found generous torrents of CBC and BBC, as well as the Hong Kong Chinese feeds of the ceremonies and several events that were far more pleasant to watch. If I had to hear Bob Costas drone on and on incessantly one more time I think I would shoot the television.

Roxanne (user link) says:

NBC coverage sucked

I wanted to watch more. I work at my computer all day and thought it would be nice to watch some of the coverage online while I worked. Right! There were tons of 30 second interview garbage, a bunch of “last Olympics” stuff mixed in with everything else, but I had a heck of a time ever finding ANYTHING worth watching at all. I gave up.

Did I choose instead to turn the TV on? Ah, not likely. NBS execs, you’re about as stupid as McCain and his new running mate.

Stephen Golub says:

NBC is Retarded and Microsoft is Malicious

For one thing, they think they did well by crippling internet streaming and then saying TV is the preferred medium? That’s like putting all of the chocolate and stuff behind a locked cabinet and then saying that the kids liked the healthy food more!

I was at work when most of the Olympics were going on. I work at a computer. I would have loved to see streaming video of the Olympics that wasn’t on Silverlight.

Everytime I’ve installed Silverlight, it stops any of our D-Link products from working. This bug is well known about and still hasn’t been resolved (http://silverlight.net/forums/p/7452/77779.aspx) considering I have lots of D-Link cameras that I deal with, this isn’t right.

Sometimes I think MS just does things to piss others off.

Anonymous Coward says:

Are all Mac users as arrogant as this guy?

“But I will never install silverlight on a mac. It’s just against all principles.

I was actually really annoyed by the dependence on silverlight. I found that to be an incredibly dumb move. I wonder how much microsoft paid NBC for that.”

First, I doubt Microsoft paid NBC anything. NBC wanted a viewer with a lot of features and so they chose silverlight. It is actually a decent video viewer.

Second, instead of whining like a bratty 2 year old…
Install Silverlight, enjoy the olympics, when it’s over uninstall it. It only takes a couple minutes to download and install. I guess you missed out because you are an arrogant SOB.

Third, by your logic, the iPod would have failed. Nobody would have purchased one because “they would never install iTunes on a PC. It’s against all principles.”

My hell. What an idiot.

ConceptJunkie (profile) says:

Re: Re: Are all Mac users as arrogant as this guy?

I tried Silverlight on XP running Firefox and all I could ever get it to do is ask to be installed, even after it supposedly was.

Sorry, Microsoft, you lose again. And now that I’m running Linux on all my machines, I know there will never be any point in installing your latest attempt to lock everyone in to your monopoly.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Are all Mac users as arrogant as this guy?

“First, I doubt Microsoft paid NBC anything. NBC wanted a viewer with a lot of features and so they chose silverlight. It is actually a decent video viewer.”

Hehe, a bit naive? I’m sure there was some collusion, even if you found the results to be fine.

Anyway, whatever the reasons, Microsoft have a very well deserved reputation for poor quality software and have many competitors in the online video market. Silverlight is a relatively unproven and unpopular piece of software, even if you found it to be OK. It’s not unreasonable to question the safely and stability of this software, nor to question why this software was chosen.

I bet you also install any software that comes from Sony because you never have any problems, too?

“Second, instead of whining like a bratty 2 year old…
Install Silverlight, enjoy the olympics, when it’s over uninstall it. It only takes a couple minutes to download and install. I guess you missed out because you are an arrogant SOB.”

Do you do this with any piece of software you’re asked to install? Do you really never question the reason for or safety of such software? If so, don’t whine when the backdoor installed in your PC gets compromised…

“Third, by your logic, the iPod would have failed. Nobody would have purchased one because “they would never install iTunes on a PC. It’s against all principles.””

You don’t need iTunes to use an iPod. Many people use other software, including on machines (e.g. Linux) where Apple haven’t decided to make a version of iTunes available. You *did* need Silverlight to see NBC’s Olympic coverage.

So: analogy FAIL.

“My hell. What an idiot.”

By the looks of things: Pot. Kettle.

Steve says:

CBC's coverage

I live in Canada and I couldn’t check out the American coverage but I tried to see how to use it and it was a pain in the ass. From what I’ve it read it was a big pain in the ass for some people.

I have to applaud the CBC coverage of the Olympics. There was 9 channels available from the main page and it was a simple streaming video of the event. You had to endure a 30 second commercial before the video but who the heck cares since you can mute it. No other commercials were visible till you started it again. There were limited ads on the site (I turned adblocker off) and when there were they did not interrupt the coverage. It was simple and worked great. I only hope that CTV continues the high level set by the CBC in 2010.

chris says:

NBC is probably right

To be honest, I hate watching tv on my computer and would much rather sit in front of my plasma screen to watch the olympics. You have to understand, while youtube boats a large streaming volume, most of those are videos that aren’t also available on television…so it’s an inaccurate analogy. Youtube has given broadcasting rights to the masses, but it hasn’t replaced television by any stretch.

Also, consider that a majority of online video streaming is likely to take place when a television isn’t an option (school, work for example).

I think NBC is correct in stating that most people would rather watch the Olympics on television. You have to look beyond the raw numbers and examine the content as well.

new-guy-from-nj (profile) says:

they wouldn't let me watch

I actually was interested enough in trying out the offering that I installed silverlight. But then after going through all of that, the asked me who my cable provider was, and when I answered honestly, they said, “that’s not an ‘NBC Partner’ so you can’t watch.” (Although my cable provider does carry NBC.)

And I was annoyed enough by this that I didn’t bother going back and lying. What a waste of time.

jefftmcdonald says:

The NBC website was ridiculous. I live overseas and was banned from watching any Olympics on any website all because NBC restricted all its coverage. The powers in the media went out of their way to limit what people can see to certain zones/programs/feeds, not make it freely available. Why? To make money of course.

Errant Garnish (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The International Olympic Committee only granted (sold) NBC the rights to retransmit the games within the United States. They would be violating their contract — and the local broadcasters in the country where you live would have a grievance against them — if they did not make an effort to restrict access outside the US.

Incidentally, broadcasting the Olympics is not a profitable enterprise. The rights are extremely costly (NBC paid $2.2 Billion!!!), as are the production costs (flying equipment and crews around the world, leasing satellite and fiber capacity for backhaul) and despite some passionate fans, it is generally not a well-watched event in the US. This year’s Olympics is an anomaly due to the Michael Phelps phenomenon. I predict a similar anomaly in registration for swim team ;-).

So is NBC’s claim that people still like to watch TV on TV that far fetched? Check out this report from Nielsen released this summer. They found that while growth in broadband consumption of programming is strong, people are spending more time than ever watching traditional TV.

So 93% of viewers watched the Olympics on TV. Does the poster really believe that if NBC had used different video viewing software, this would have dropped below 50% in favor of online? This is difficult for me to believe.


Luke says:

Silverlight sucks

Silverlight is still too new and has problems.

Every single time I go to a website that requires silverlight, it tells me I need to install it when it is already installed. I even went as far as manually downloading the executable and installing it rather than installing it in the browser, and I still get messages telling me to install it. Issues like that need to be addressed before silverlight should appear on any major websites.

Anonymous Coward says:

How many people in this country have high speed internet in this country? Honestly, what normal (by normal I mean anyone who does not read or post on this site) would rather watch their computer monitor than their TV? Just saying this is a very shortsighted article with an inability to think about the normal consumer. Get over yourselves nerds. No one cares about you only about what you can do for them.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Sigh, we always get some of these people don’t we? “I don’t have any need for it so it’s useless”. Who would want to use such a service? Well, let’s try:

– People who don’t watch / own a TV, or whose TV is broken
– People wanting to watch from work and/or a place where a TV is not available, or via a mobile device on the move.
– People wanting to watch games or sports not shown on the TV channels.

…for starters. Just because you don’t use something doesn’t mean nobody else does. Also, just because it’s not something a lot of people do right now, does that mean that it shouldn’t happen, or mistakes should not be fixed for next time?

I mean, not so long ago no “normal” person used a computer in their job or watched TV in colour or recorded TV shows or played videogames. All of these are now mainstream activities. Who’s to say that by the next Olympics, watching video online is not a more “normal” activity? Is it OK for the same mistakes to be made then?

“No one cares about you only about what you can do for them.”

So, NBC shouldn’t care that a lot of people were motivated to bypass their coverage (and therefore advertising, and therefore profits) because they failed to meet the customers’ needs? Interesting…

Lucretious (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Honestly, what normal (by normal I mean anyone who does not read or post on this site) would rather watch their computer monitor than their TV?

lets see, those who aren’t taken in by the utter GARBAGE that people like you seem to be happy with on mainstream TV?

BTW, the number of people who prefer to watch web content over TV is larger than you think and growing daily. Just because you don’t have the depth of mind to watch something that isn’t spoon fed to you by the suits doesn’t make people “nerds”.

LOL…”Nerds”. What year is this, 1993?

Tony (profile) says:

TV was okay... screw MSNBC et al

The only commentary that will be listened to on this topic will be the bridges burned with ad revenues for the streaming. This is a monstrously expensive mistake by NBC. Even if they won coverage for London, online advertisers, in a world with technology 4 years newer, won’t touch them. Apple ought to just move into this massive opportunity.

I echo the complaints about requiring intel-based chipsets to install a crap piece of software. the website was so incredibly slow that it took me enough time to navigate to where I finally learned of the system requirements, I just said screw it. This at 15mb/s.

As far as TV coverage, I was usually able to get 2-4 different channels with coverage, depending upon time of day (Cox AZ). This made catching the women’s soccer events easy, since they were live at 6AM (much easier than that Korea world cup). Telemundo was great with classic commentary for all the soccer and boxing events (the latter were not of interest).

Overall, I’d say I logged more than 100 hours of couch time during the event, thankfully missing both the opening and closing ceremonies – though I will probably try to watch them on utube.

rec9140 (user link) says:


Well theres a few problems with NBC’s online video:

1) silverlight. Sorry ms, I use Linux and NO WAY I am installing Mono/moonlight/silverlight on any PC I own or control. NO CHANCE.

2)I only have an interest in one sport out of all the various ones available. I am want to be able go to that sport select the particular person, and get a video of their performance MINUS the IDIOT COMMENTARY by washed up athletes. I don’t need your commentary, thank you.

#1 is a total deal breaker as I WILL NOT install that crap on any PC even winslop ones.

So buy a clue NBC and others…. If you want me to see your content you will need to be Linux compatible.

And oh yeah, don’t bother with flash either. I don’t allow that either!

James Stevens (profile) says:

Silverlight is ghey...

I was so pissed about having to download and install Microsoft Silverlight on Firefox just to watch the table tennis events I really wanted to see. Since they didn’t get much TV coverage, I had to dload the plugin just to watch it ๐Ÿ™

I hate Microsoft and NBC becuz of stupid moves like this that they tend to make every single time, then they miss the real reason why people chose TV over their site so much… it was so lopsided and NBC is confused and led astray thinking their site was a success :

So now I go ahead and uninstall Silverlight, but wow I didn’t think large well-funded companies like NBC and Microsoft were so stupid when it comes to technology and making viewers happy.

Rocky says:

NBC Olympics Banned Here

My Canadian location prevented watching any video coverage of NBC’s Olympic broadcast. As if Canada is not even considered a part of North America. Looks like the US of A does not believe in free trade or even considers us here to be trading partners.
I was able to receive online Olympic coverage from other nations overseas.

Kevin says:

Visat Media Center Plugin

I just had a baby and wasn’t able to catch much of the Olympics live. However, I followed a lot of the Olympics coverage via NBC’s Windows Media Center plugin. No complaints here! Was able to establish my prefered events as individual channels, then tune into my favorite events and basically watch in HD… no skips… I’ve unistalled however. I’m very careful to not bloat my PC with too much software. TVTonic was auto installed and constantly sitting in my systray…. Liked the service, but not enough to keep it running constantly. If NBC comes up with something else worthwhile to watch this way then I’ll reinstall…

james says:

Good to see you Linux nerds out in full force with the same ill-concealed Microsoft hating going on.

If you took your head out of your ass, you’d find Silverlight to be a much more advanced video player.

And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a version of quake that runs on it at 60 fps, (what a horrible browser embedded platform, i’m sure)


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