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NBC Olympics London 2012: A Social Blitzkrieg?

7 August 2012

In a sure sign the NBC is riding a ratings high for coverage of the London 2012 Olympics, the network is selling its surplus “make-good” advertising time—held out in case of a ratings shortfall—at higher rates. Despite the tape-delayed airing of some of the most anticipated meets— Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas, Usain Bolt—and in deference to its prime time advertisers, it has scored a milestone of its own. On the evening of August 2, NBC drew 36.8 million viewers to Phelps’ third consecutive gold medal win and Douglas’ gold all-around performance—a Thursday night viewing second only to the series finale of Friends of 52.5 million viewers in 2004. NBC even has cautiously revised Olympics revenue expectations, hoping to make a small profit.

So, why all the #NBCFail?

Speed of light certainly isn’t the issue, as one despondent viewer noted, “Mars landings should be an Olympic sport. NASA TV is way better than NBC .”Today’s media consumers want to witness “firsts” as they happen. As our NetBase social analysis for the past month below reveals, viewers have flocked to social media forums voicing their discontent with the network’s coverage. Not only did NBC viewers miss such live Olympic moments as the record race of Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man, and the achievement of Gabby Douglas, the first African-American woman to win gold in the all-around—ironically this happened in London, where the Olympics were first televised in homes in 1948.

Put simply, NBC is doing business as usual: adhering to an old media business model while providing, at the same time, unprecedented comprehensive multiple platform coverage. On the other hand, the BBC—a publicly supported network—is leveraging new advanced technology to provide viewers with a broad selection of live feeds for customized and enhanced viewing of the Olympic games.

As the London 2012 coverage is revealing, the future of old media holds a looming disconnect between TV networks and their viewers. Clinging to an old media model in an increasingly disruptive media landscape where the media consumption, behavior, even loyalty of always-on consumers is at risk, NBC’s success (or failure) can no longer be measured by mere TV eyeballs alone. To wit, the 93,000 #NBCFail and related social posts this month generated nearly 148 million impressions, reflecting huge measured reach and influence of Olympics media consumers with opinions, new expectations and satisfaction thresholds that can’t be measured by old ratings standards.

While some cynics like to remind us that NBC isn’t a not-for-profit enterprise, their shortsighted dismissal of VOC’s power on brand loyalty in this shifting media landscape is fraught with dangerous platitude in the short to medium term. Others diminish #NBCFail as non-representative of bigger audiences not on Twitter. Still others reject the call for an NBC boycott as potentially representing an insignificant 2% cable cutters (who by the way can’t stream NBCO lympics). However, according to our analysis, 85% of the #NBCFail discussion in the past month occurred in a variety of social forums and blogs—not only Twitter—attesting to the scope of audience reach and influence.

I would argue that just as CPG and other brands are re-evaluating and adopting VOC listening strategies, which result in new CRM standards and metrics to remain competitive, drive innovation and grow brand equity, so must old media revisit old CRM and ratings standards in the long term.

In the chart below, in which monitoring filtered audience response for NBC’s tape delay coverage, you’ll see a notable decline in both Net Sentiment and Passion Intensity—from a one month peak of 76% and 79 on July 23, respectively, as pre-opening fervor grew—to a monthly low the day after the Olympics opened— 14% Net Sentiment and 34 Passion Intensity. The intense passion score fluctuations reflect the disquiet VOC , coupled with July’s plunging 4% average Net Sentiment score.

Adding to the complexity of NBC’s tape delayed coverage is the Olympics reputation tantamount to that of a public trust, with unique public viewer expectations. Advanced social media analytics of Olympics VOC sentiment, passion, emotions and behaviors are butting heads with old media ratings metrics. NBC’s argument that audience share has skyrocketed despite all the social media grousing about delayed taping, with new younger demographics (read: Gabby Douglas fans) joining adults in TV watching, sounds like a myopic illusion. Do they really reflect the shaping of a nascent TV demographic growth pattern? How long will these kids they stick around?

The #NBCFail NetBase emotions word cloud below is just the tip of the iceberg. While viewer satisfaction patterns in social analytics reveal root cause and trends, critically, they also inform brand response to VOC , a CRM imperative for new non-passive audiences.

While growing social media audiences may appreciate NBC’s multi-platform coverage, its old media strategy is contradicted by its resistance to broadcast live to satisfy evolving media consumption viewer patterns. Just as we witnessed live both the first Moon walk and Sunday’s evening’s most recent Mars rover Curiosity landing, our expectation also is to witness Olympics firsts live—not in #NBCDelay replay.

In the short term, NBC’s beleaguered ratings may have been largely offset by the London 2012 Olympics, but the long haul will require deference to VOC . The massive social media lab NBC has erected to study how audiences consume media also should remind the network that synching with and sustaining audience loyalty won’t be achieved with selective live coverage of synchronized swimming.

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