Olympics Online a Modest Hit for NBC

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The initial numbers suggest that online viewing numbers for their Olympics coverage in the US have been pretty good, though not as big as the hype. Over the first three days an average of 4.7 million users watched and average of just 3.6 million video streams on NBC’s site, according to ZDNet. The good news for NBC is that the total number of online viewers went up slightly each day, even as the number of television views dropped. And that’s also 4-times more than watched the Italian Winter games online in 2006, and about on par with the 4.7 million unique viewers who watched NCAA basketball in the US last March online.

The bad news, though, as ZDNet’s Tom Steinert-Threlkeld points out, is that NBC is streaming only about 2% of the number of videos that Google’s YouTube streams each day (and remember that YouTube also has some Olympics coverage outside the US). So even though NBC’s numbers have been good, they haven’t been close to a perfect 10.

The Olympic video is also not proving very sticky. Average time spent on the NBCOlympics.com site is just 15 minutes (on the high end). That’s actually more than the 2.7 minute average for web video reported in July. But given that so many Olympic events — especially team sports like football (soccer), volleyball, basketball, and water polo — take place over much more than 15 minutes, that’s not a great sign for the success of NBC’s online coverage.

So why were NBC’s numbers only good and not great? The short online attention span is almost definitely a contributing factor. In a world where online viewers are generally used to watching videos under 3 minutes, long-form sports coverage just may not be attractive to many people. (Then again, Hulu has done very well, and it houses a large library of full-length television shows and feature films.)

Another reason could be the way that NBC schedules its television coverage. By doing things like tape delaying events to keep them in prime time, and putting US-centric events — such as female gymnastics and Michael Phelps’ swimming — on its flagship television channel after 8PM, it is diminishing the attractiveness of their online coverage to casual American fans.

And of course, it could just be that the online coverage is not very good, suffering from poor navigation, so-so quality, and a complete lack of commentary. (Others disagree with that assessment.)

The ZDNet article also mentions that most people watch online Olympics clips together, with an average of 1.5 people watching each clip — which would lower the number of total streams, but actually increase the number of total users. However, it’s unclear how they are able to measure that.

NBC could see a bump in its daytime usage as the work week starts as people try to sneak Olympic-sized breaks at the office.

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