About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Monday, July 30, 2012

NBC's censoring of the Olympics: Social media and lost opportunities

Let me begin by stating I am a big fan of the Olympics. Overall, NBC, the American television corporation with rights to broadcasting the Olympics, with one exception, has done a pretty good job of covering the games on its free, open access station. They have included a wide variety of sports in all day (more or less)coverage.

However, they have really missed the boat on their social media/online coverage, which could have real repercussions from fans in the future. It also points out how ignorant the corporation is about social media and the "new" media the it purports makes this the first "social media" Olympics.

My history with the Olympics

As a child, I remember waking up early in the morning or in the middle of the night to watch the first "live" satellite broadcasted Olympics. Living only 90 miles from Lake Placid, the winter Olympics were always followed closely in my family. Then the Broadcasters learned that they could get better viewing numbers (and thus higher advertising rates) if they saved the most popular events until primetime (7-11PM). Soon, only certain events were available for viewing. This was the first line of censureship by American broadcasters of the Olympics. Only events in which American won were shown. There was a general outcry as fans of a certain sport in which there was popularity and good representation by the US (e.g. hockey, bobsledding, equestrian)were not shown unless there was a win. Viewership of the Olympics fell.

During the Atlanta Olympics, sametime coverage was extended and the networks learned that they could develop fans for lesser known sports. I remember watching the equestrian field jumping one afternoon and became entranced (as did others, which I learned later). Broadcasters learned that there was a market during the day, especially for the summer Olympics.

For the China Olympics, I finally had access to high speed internet which allowed me to view streaming video. The Olympics became even more exciting as I was able to watch video (some of it raw footage) on little known sports that the general population might not be interested in (i.e. fencing, rowing, white water canoing/kayaking) and some better known sports that might not be widely watched in the US (i.e. soccer). It was wonderful being able to access footage not shown on the TV, but watching primetime for the major sports.

By the winter Olympics in Vancouver, however, things had changed. I was no longer able to go to the NBC site to view the Olympics. In addition, NBC had migrated some of the events I was interested in on to their cable channels. I was not willing to pay $1200 a year for cable (in which I have very little interest as I do not watch much TV for the most part during the year, and we live on a limited budget). A new form of network censureship took over in which I was limited in watching only those sports the network deemed as important and I was limited in accessing information via the internet. I was able to find some footage on YouTube and NBC did post footage 24 hours later. I could understand the network wanting to get as much viewership as possible via television to ensure maximizing advertising profits.

Speed forward to this year. I was so excited when I heard NBC had a special app to view the Olympics on mobile technology. Then I went to the NBC Olympics home page and discovered that not only could I not watch the Olympics live, but the only video available was "highlights" (fluff pieces and edited versions of the live video). According to the NBC Olympics site:

Q: What is required for accessing Live Extra content?
A: You will need to verify that you subscribe to a cable, satellite or telco video tier that includes CNBC and MSNBC. There is no additional charge.
Q: Is account verification required for accessing video other than live streams?
A: Yes, but only full-event replays (e.g. an entire basketball game) within 48 hours of an event’s conclusion. You will NOT need to verify your TV subscription to view the extensive collection of competition highlights, interviews, athlete profiles, etc., available on NBCOlympics.com.

Q: Can I access live streams anywhere other than NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Olympics Live Extra App without verifying?
A: No. Olympic video will not be available to U.S. viewers on other websites or Apps.

In other words, NBC has put a block on all Olympic video so that countries in Africa and Asia have more internet access to the Olympics than in the US (unless you pay for your television through cable).

Why is this bad?

While I understand the marketing decisions NBC made due to income from cable companies (trying to get their numbers up so they can charge cable companies higher viewership fees), NBC does not understand that viewers without cable are now frustrated and do not want to watch the Olympics. Cable companies and production companies have learned that viewers want alternatives and individualization (viewing on demand) in their viewing habits. They don't want to be forced to view on cable or nothing at all (viewers that access televisions through DSL are also blocked from videos on the NBC site).

I am surprised that NBC has been allowed to have such a monopoly in which all information is limited to what NBC allows out. One exception is twitter. I have been able to access images and information from twitter. However, I'd like to access video. I feel such resentment towards NBC, that I would NEVER get cable as I don't like being blackmailed into something. Interestingly enough, looking at the schedule, CNBC and MSNBC don't really carry very much of the Olympics. So this is just a way of using the Olympics to blackmail viewers into getting these TV stations.

While we complain about other governments blocking content that is unacceptable for the population to access, we allow corporations to do the same thing. Only filtered information is available about the Olympics. This makes me wonder what other aspects of broadcasting will begin to become filtered. What if NYSE were to come to an agreement with a broadcaster that NYSE information could only be available through cable? This means that a certain group in the population (those that don't have cable or access to cable) would always be excluded. This gives new meaning to the digital divide.

A missed opportunity

On the part of NBC, I feel that in their wish to control all aspects of information about the Olympics demonstrates their lack of understanding about power of the internet and mobile technology. One of the most amusing, yet disturbing, examples was their attempt to integrate social media into their broadcast (no doubt trying to emulate ABC's Good Afternoon America and Live with Kelly's success).

NBC assumes that all who do not subscribe to cable also do not have mobile technology. Their "bait and switch" tactics in advertising that they had an app in which people could access live streaming did not add that you needed to have cable television subscription with CNBC and MSNBC in order to use the app. They lost out on a large potential income stream by not selling the app for use by those who did not have a cable subscription. I know of many who would have paid for it.

The webpage for the NBC Olympics really needs improvement. It is very difficult to navigate and find out information (other than the fact that really you can't use it unless you subscribe to CNBC and MSNBC). Finally, the Today show is not taking advantage of the games to the best of its ability. I was very disappointed this morning (and have decided I will do all my work from 7-10 when the Today show airs in my area) at the content. I was not interested in the calories food in England have or the fashions of England. I did want to see the entire skeet shooting competition in which the American winner shot 99/100 and set an Olympic record for most consecutive gold metals in the summer Olympics. At that point, the interview (which was good) could take place. The Today show could be a tease for the evening tape delayed events (i.e. showing tape delayed or live qualifying events so those watching in the evening would want to see how it ended).

No comments: