Will ESPN get the 2014 Winter Olympics? Hope so

Jim O'Neil

For an awful lot of online video viewers, the 2010 Olympic in Vancouver, during which NBC had scheduled only 400 hours of actual live streaming video, were disappointing (despite bonus points for its hockey coverage).

But for NBC Universal, the Games set some significant records, or at least some milestones for whoever bids on the next available games (Sochi, Russia, in 2014). NBC says it scored some 710 million page views and 46 million unique visits as it served up 45 million streams.

The issue for many viewers was that NBC enforced a paywall around much of the available content, ticking off viewers who were not already subscribers to cable, IPTV or satellite services. Plus, live streaming of hockey and curling ONLY? C'mon, you have to offer more than that. There are big story lines all over that deserve more than delayed coverage.

For the second games in a row, Yahoo drew a bigger audience to its coverage of the games than did NBC. Of more interest, perhaps, is that ESPN saw its numbers soar this Olympics as well.

Why is ESPN a bigger deal than Yahoo? Simple... it's a player in the bidding for the Sochi Winter Games, and it's already suggesting it would be committed to more coverage--live coverage, especially--than NBC offered.

NBC paid $820 million for the Vancouver Games, and had rights to show every minute of competition if it chose to. The network claims it lost about $200 million, although there's an awful lot of debate about whether it actually lost as much as it claims.

Rights to Sochi are likely to be less expensive and, you have to believe, online and multi-screen options should both be cheaper to offer and more lucrative to present.

ESPN's EVP of content John Skipper told the New York Times last week that he was surprised NBC showed so few live events, "It's hard for me to imagine, in our culture, not showing events live."

Would ESPN show the entire thing live? Probably not. Sochi is eight hours ahead of Eastern Time, so while it could push everything to cable and online, it would need to save some of the matinee events, like figure skating, downhill skiing and snowboarding for primetime audiences.

Would it show more than the woeful NBCU effort? That's a no brainer. -Jim

P.S. Want some more numbers from the NBC effort that are a little more, well, Olympian in nature? Check out this Giga Om blog post