Are online advertisers disappointed in NBC's Olympic performance?

NBC's president, Jeff Zucker, has been defending his decision to hold back screening the Olympic opening ceremony. But are online advertisers happy?

NBC President Jeff Zucker has been explaining to the U.S. public just how right the network was to not screen the Olympic opening ceremony live.

"There's no question we did the right thing in holding the opening ceremony to air in prime time on NBC that night," he said on CNBC's Squawk Box. "The excitement that built out of word of mouth that the opening ceremony was the most spectacular thing that people had seen, that China had wanted to make a statement and they made a statement and people wanted to see that."

I have many friends who would like to be media moguls, so I pored over these words in the hope of learning something that will help their careers.

Mr. Zucker seems to believe that word of mouth comes from deprivation, from tantalizing people that something amazing has happened and that they will only be able to see it on NBC television.

I think I can understand that.

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So one assumes, given that this strategy has been so successful, the next time NBC's cameras exclusively witness, say, an assassination or a politician saying or doing something nutty, they will keep it to themselves until prime time comes along. You know, just to build up the excitement.

However, I am still a little bit confused as to how he can be sure that if NBC had run the ceremony in real time, people would have told their friends that it was a dull, lifeless experience, not unlike the U.S. version of Coupling?

Might it not have been vaguely possible that those who saw it live would have offered positive word of mouth? You know, just as people do when they see a movie they enjoy. And might it not have been possible that these people would have tuned in again in prime time, given what a spectacular show it turned out to be? You know, just as people sometimes watch excellent movies twice, or enjoy reruns of Frasier.

Still, another thing I learned was that "the pipes," as Mr. Zucker refers to network television, are still the most powerful medium for mass viewing: "I think what's been great, we've been able to bottle that excitement since the opening ceremony and I think the team has captured that in every day since," he said.

I learned a lot from Mr. Zucker's use of the words "bottle" and "capture." Here's an example of how capture worked the other night to bottle ratings.

At the time, America's mouths were full of anticipatory words about the all-around women's gymnastics final.

Two Americans, Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin, were poised to show the Chinese that you could survive both puberty and grueling training and still be a wonderful gymnast.

So what time did Americans witness the final result? Why, a few seconds before one in the morning. Which didn't seem quite perfect to me.

I mean, if this mythical prime time was really the key to all the scheduling decisions, surely one might have expected that NBC would have enjoyed more viewers at, say, a few minutes before 10 in the evening? You see, that would have been the time on the West Coast when the result was finally decided.

But, no, the West Coast had its excitement bottled until after bedtime as it endured its usual tape delay and thousands and thousands of adults and children disappeared, never to be inspired by some of America's most wonderful women athletes.

That bottle seems to be a little corked to me.

Here's a thought. Just a small one. Is it possible that this TV attitude is affecting the NBC's online audience?

For all Mr. Zucker's public delight at the network's Olympian Olympic performance, I understand that some advertisers have not been entirely happy with the returns they are getting from the splendid NBCOlympics.com.

Indeed, word of mouth in the business is that several of NBC's advertisers have, over the last week, been discreetly attempting to augment their online presence by seeking to buy space on sites other than NBC's.

Does this mean that NBC's online Olympics site is somehow underdelivering on promises made?

While Mr. Zucker trumpets NBC's all-around performance, claiming some 30 million unique visitors to NBCOlympics.com, some interesting numbers have emerged from ComScore. They suggest that Yahoo's Olympic section actually had 8 million unique users in the U.S. in the week ending August 10. This compares to NBC Olympics.com's 6.7 million.

Brands are funny things. And NBC's is a very strong brand, one that has brought us brilliant programming such as The Office and 30 Rock, the latter a brave and funny series that superbly satirizes TV production.

But I wonder whether real people, real American people, not amused by NBC's bottling, capturing mentality, have expressed a small rebellion against the NBC brand and avoided the online offering in sufficient numbers to make the private projections fall short. As the ComScore numbers show, some people seem to have gone for their online Olympic fix elsewhere, despite the availability of good-quality video on NBC's site.

This is a pity because the NBCOlympics.com is a very fine place to spend time. While you're waiting for, you know, the live events to be shown.

Click here for more stories on tech and the Beijing Olympics.

 

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