The Truth About #NBCFail
For Starters, NBC Is Not, Last Time I Checked, a Charity
By: Simon Dumenco
A few thoughts about NBC’s Olympics strategy — and the operatic freak-outs about NBC’s Olympics strategy:
It’s been perverse fun watching ad-supported, for-profit media outlets freak the hell out because of the business decisions made by ad-supported, for-profit NBC. For instance, consider this post from Mashable on Saturday: “Please Don’t Watch NBC Tonight. Or Any Night.” The gist of the screed: “If you’re cool with watching tape delays, having commercials during soccer games and more, then by all means watch NBC tonight and give them good ratings. But if people really want this to change, especially for future Olympics, World Cups and more, then you need to not watch. Scour the internet for bootleg streams, most of which are live; or if you must watch the games tonight, go to a bar where the games will already be on. Don’t contribute to the ratings.”
There’s something insanely white-collar elitist media circle-jerkish about all this whining about tape delays. Think about it: Some people are throwing hissy fits because NBC is showing tape-delayed events during American prime time, and in some cases those people — horrors! — have already found out who won those events via news reports and social media. If you want to watch all the live streams of events during the day via NBCOlympics.com as they actually happen in London, you have to be able to authenticate that you have a cable, satellite or telco TV subscription that includes MSNBC and CNBC. (Unless, of course, you’ve taken Mashable’s advice to seek out bootleg streams.) But wait a second. How many people in America who are gainfully employed have the sorts of jobs where they can actually stop working during the day if they feel like it and instead watch the Olympics at their desks? For starters, I guess, cranky-ass bloggers who can set their own hours. But beyond the media bubble, how many white-collar office workers — let alone blue-collar workers — can really devote endless hours during the work day to watching the Olympics?
Comparing the BBC’s Olympics-broadcast business strategy to NBC’s is just idiotic. There’s been a lot of confusion, it seems, about why the BBC appears to be doing such a good job of streaming live Olympic coverage to the entire U.K. audience. (Coverage that American viewers can access if they jump through some technical hoops, publicized online by the likes of Gawker Media’s Gizmodo, involving the use of proxy servers to mimic U.K. IP addresses.) If the BBC can serve the British public so well, why can’t NBC do the same for the American public? Besides the fact that the BBC is broadcasting to the U.K. audience within the U.K. time zone, and has an entirely different licensing deal with the Olympics than NBC does, please remember that BBC is a public-broadcasting entity (with the sort of dominance and budgetary support that PBS could only dream of) and Brits have to pay an annual “colour license fee” of 145.50 pounds ($228.22) — or 49 pounds ($76.86) for a black-and-white (!) license. Read all about it here: Inside the BBC.
It bears repeating: NBC is not a charity. Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic and one of the few sober media voices on the supposed #NBCFail debacle. Here’s a brief bit from his post titled “Why NBC Doesn’t Care That You Want to Watch the Olympics Live on TV”:
The easiest way to understand why NBC wants to force you to watch the Olympics in prime time is to stop thinking about what audiences want and start thinking about what advertisers want. NBC paid about $1.2 billion for the rights to broadcast these games. To make back most of that money, NBC needs to sell extremely expensive commercials. The most valuable commercials aren’t sold online to be viewed on browser tabs on 12-inch display screens. They’re sold on prime-time TV.
Or as the subtitle of Thompson’s piece puts it: “I feel your pain, but NBC’s business model isn’t worth blowing up to placate the cable-cutting 2 percent.”Simon Dumenco is the “Media Guy” columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.