Is NBC going to botch the Beijing Games online? Looks that way.
The network is planning an unprecedented 2,200 hours of live coverage on the Web–far more than the 1,400 hours on six NBC U-owned TV channels. Good, right? One very big catch: The network won’t allow you watch anything it thinks it has mass appeal — that is, anything it intends to air on its own broadcast — until it has shown it on TV, the AP reports.
UPDATE: Contrary to the AP report, NBC says “some” events will be simulcast live on TV and NBCOlympics.com.
In addition, NBC U is banning the use of any Olympic video online by other news organisations covering the event. Video from the Olympic trials, going on now, must come down on Aug. 7, the day before the games begin.
NBC U paid $800 million for the U.S. rights to the Beijing Olympics alone, and $3.5 billion for five Olympic games through 2008. The Olympics are a vast money-losing operation for NBC, meant to provide a ratings halo for the network’s other shows and help promote the fall TV season. NBC expects to lose even more money on the online broadcast, but nevertheless sees it as an opportunity to build an audience that will surely seek coverage elsewhere if NBC doesn’t provide it.
But by trying to embargo video online, NBC threatens to sabotage its own efforts, by giving pirate P2P and other illicit sites a de-facto monopoly on live online coverage of the games’ most popular events.
NBC U says it can stop this via enforcement. The company says it is working with 100 of the biggest video sites on the Web to get them to take down ilicit video, and it is watermarking each second of video that comes out of the the International Olympic Committee’s feed, to make takedowns easier. But that’s just going to make taped footage scarce on legitimate video sites. It won’t do anything to keep pirated TV feeds, or video shot by fans, from being uploaded to p2p filesharing services. (To see how this works, take a look at our coverage of Euro 2008 for an extensive list of illicit sources of live sports, as well as sources of ripped foreign feeds.)
NBC U actually has the opportunity to make piracy irrelevant. Not by fruitless crackdown efforts, but by ditching the antiquated notion that online coverage of live sports hurts TV ratings. One need look no farther than CBS’s March Madness, or NBC’s own online coverage of the U.S. Open to see that’s not the case.
So: If you want to watch fencing or kayaking live online in August, NBC has you covered. If you want to watch gymnastics, swimming or any other marquee event on your browser, you’re going to have to move your eyeballs elsewhere.
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