The London 2012 Olympic Games are history and the biggest surprise winner may have been NBC. The television network paid more than $1 billion for the rights to broadcast an event that would take place in the early mornings in the US, would be heavily discussed all day long on social media, and would still have to be interesting enough hours later to attract prime-time audiences in sufficient numbers to pay that billion-dollar bill.
How’d it go? The just-released television ratings show that in the last week of the Olympics NBC had the eight top-rated broadcasts. A quarter of all the televisions watched in prime time were tuned to NBC. The Games drew nearly 220 million viewers, and NBC sold about $1.25 billion in advertising, a gold-medal-winning performance.
How’d they pull that off in a media world dominated by status updates, competitive cooking shows and mindless reality TV? NBC was smart, and did some things that both media and marketers should think about when they strategize about social sharing.
The Bronze Medal Lesson: Ask for Something
This Olympics featured live video streams like never before — every sport, all-day coverage. What a great way to draw viewers who favor some of the less-popular events. My own athletic addiction is rowing, so I was right there on the first morning of the regatta eager to watch online. But wait: Gotta sign up. Give us your information. And, here’s a new one: Prove you pay us something through your cable provider. My reward after all that was to watch a commercial.
As a consumer I was less than thrilled, but then I thought, well, at least they think enough of their content to ask something for it. An email address, a view of a commercial, a Like, a Follow, something! If you ask nothing for your product you’ve announced it has no value and consumers will pay you exactly that for it. (My newspaper friends learned that one the hard way.)
The Silver Medal Lesson: Control the Sharing
One of the highlights of the Olympics for me, not surprisingly, was the finish of a rowing race. In the men’s lightweight four, first through fourth were separated by 1.21 seconds. The South Africans came from out of nowhere to win.
But when I tried to share the video with other rowing geeks, it wasn’t to be. Not through NBC. Not even on YouTube, where one video had the “Removed Due to Copyright Infringement” stamp. Lots of narrations of the race with still photos, but no video. NBC was sharing a lot, but it wasn’t sharing everything. And by doing so it was forcing viewers wanting that content back to their website, and their ads, and their sign-in process (“Please choose your cable provider …”).
The Gold Medal Lesson: Give Paying Customers More
NBC took a little heat for not showing more events live, but so what. If you really wanted to the see the men’s basketball team (Surprise!) win the gold, or Gabby Douglas win the gymnastics all-around competition you could wait until prime time. That content was held back as a reward to NBC’s paying customers and rightly so.
Prime-time viewers also got heart-warming stories about young Gabby’s move from Virginia to Iowa to train, about swimmer Missy Franklin from Aurora, Colorado, and about a member of the British royal family competing in dressage. They added real value to the experience that can’t be achieved in 140 characters or less. And they helped us forget all those shots of Michael Phelps’ mother.
So, thanks, NBC. For the rowing and the lessons.