Olympics and Real Time Communications

by Dave Michels

The idea of saving the events most appealing to the American public for prime time viewing certainly isn’t new.

But this year, NBC’s coverage is a disaster. Well, depends how you define disaster because the ratings are high and the picture quality is fine. They have had their share of complaints about the coverage being too American or wrong time for commercials, but by far the biggest issue this year is the delayed coverage and spoilers.

From Mashable: “The fact that NBC seems insistent on spoiling its own coverage across as many forms of media as possible — because its left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. The Today Show promo incident is the best-known example. Fans sat down to watch Missy Franklin compete in the 100m backstroke, only to see a teaser for her appearance on NBC the following morning — complete with Franklin flashing her gold medal — before the time-delayed race had even started. (The network has since apologized.)

Once again, worlds collide. The old model of television programming and prime time appears to be in conflict with our new world of real time communications. It isn’t clear to me how coverage should be done in the future. Is the concept of real time dead?

Not long ago we had a major soap opera involving prime time heavyweights Leno and Conan. I could not help but wonder then, and still do now – why? Why didn’t Conan just go to the web and create a show that people can download and stream on-demand? He ended up going to cable television. I don’t know who won the ratings battle (I assume Leno), but Conan is winning social with many more followers on Twitter and Facebook. In other words, the evidence is piling up that ratings are not that important. That instead we communicate via more interactive methods.

I don’t watch a lot of television, but when I do it is rarely live TV. To be fair, NBC is making coverage available over the Internet to streamers, but only if you have a cable subscription. That’s forcing many to find it illegally. Thousands prefer the commercial-free comfort of BBC Olympic coverage, which is “technically” unavailable in the US.

Pick a side: Broadband networks (still mostly with flat rate pricing), quality endpoints, a connected real time society, and of course the DVR OR  queuing sporting events for prime time playback.