NBC and its pitiful 400 hours of streaming Olympic coverage

Jim O'Neil

After just a week of coverage there are some interesting things coming to light about NBC Universal's online efforts at the Winter Games in Vancouver.

First, no one is happy with the pitiful 400 hours of streaming video the company has scheduled for the entire two weeks of the Olympics in Vancouver--especially since it's only planning live streaming of curling and hockey. And, its "replays" of more popular sports--downhill skiing, figure skating and snowboarding--have been spotty at best and often can't be viewed until more than a day after the event has been broadcast.

Contrast that to the 2,200 hours of online video coverage it devoted to the Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008. And, while NBC is proudly proclaiming its coverage is walloping the network's efforts at the last Winter Olympics from Turin in 2006, it really is meaningless; NBC streamed just one event from Italy, a hockey game.

Of course, the network, which is owned by General Electric until its sale to Comcast is finalized, says the costs associated with producing its Olympic programming, are a major concern.

NBCU's Olympic pointman, Gary Zenkel, told the New York Times "When we roll out our digital coverage, there are some financial considerations to take into account. We make a massive investment when we acquire and produce the Olympics. The lions' share of advertising revenue continues to be generated by our television coverage."

No doubt. And that's why we end up seeing live streaming of curling on the fly, and are offered hours of live coverage of "revenue sports" during prime time.

Yahoo! leads for the gold medal--again

For the second Olympics in a row, Yahoo! has been a more appealing place for Olympic viewers to catch up with what's happening in the games than at NBCOlympics.com. MediaWeek says that between Feb. 8 and 14, Yahoo! drew 9.3 million unique visitors compared to NBC's 6.5 million. In fact, even ESPN did better than NBC, drawing some 8.4 million unique users.

As the Beijing Olympics, NBC also struggled with viewers choosing Yahoo's portal over its own.

NBC, take a cue from the Big Ten Network

Although NBC has the rights to stream-live-every minute of Olympic action, it's chosen not to, saying it will lose some $250 million on the games and that putting it online is a "tremendous amount of work at a tremendous expense."

Maybe it should take a page from the folks over at the Big Ten Network who have enhanced coverage of the conference by giving schools a couple of HD cameras and letting the schools supply coverage of sports like volleyball and water polo at very little cost to the network.

As Jon Cody, SVP for digital media with Fox told an audience at OTTCon in San Jose a couple of weeks ago: "Watching Women's Volleyball won't bring in a huge audience, but there are people who want to watch it. For a very small investment, you can get a very big return."

Would I settle into my couch to watch three hours of luge competition? Maybe, maybe not. But there's an audience out there who would. And isn't that worth going after?-Jim