Mark Lazarus, in an interview with Paid Content, called the net’s Olympic Coverage “a grand experiment” in a 1 Billion dollar lab.

From my perspective – and I’ll explain my perspective in a moment – he’s right, and their learning will pay off not only for NBC, but for the entire TV industry.

Just 6 weeks ago, I started as “Head of TV” at Twitter. I’m writing this on my own blog, and all of the opinions are my own. But I’m also writing because I’d like to use my little “scratch pad” of a blog to generate discussion and debate around social media and TV.

I spend a good chunk of my day talking with networks, showrunners, social media experts, technologists and talent about how TV is coming together with social media and Twitter. NBC’s experience with the Olympics is going to illuminate the discussion around three of the issues I hear a lot. (AT LEAST – if you have more, comment below.)

1) Real Time vs. Time Shifting. People tweet in real time. If you live on the east coast and watch / tweet TV, no problem. If you live on the west coast, there’s a problem – with spoilers. I don’t think people decided not to watch the episode of Mad Men where (spoiler alert, if you haven’t watched this season) Joan slept with the guy from Jaguar? On Saturday night, NBC had killer ratings, despite everyone knowing that Lochte beat Phelps. . recently installed a “west coast / east coast” button to save west coast fans of Project Runway from spoilers. I’ll be curious to see how many use it. My own instinct is that “spoilers” actually increase interest in a program: it’s the whole “It’s the journey, not the destination” thing… “Yes, I know how it ends… I want to see HOW!”

2) A huge shift in what we think of as “insider / outsider” perspective. The athletes are tweeting like crazy. People in the venues are tweeting like crazy. The network and producers (like Jim Bell) are tweeting like crazy.

The Olympics are an intense demonstration of what’s become a fact of life: we get our news from Twitter. This morning, competitors and observers learned that Michael Phelps dropped out of the 400M freestyle relay through Twitter. We’re getting insider news like never before.

Most interesting – the audience is tweeting like crazy – and it’s not all positive. #nbcfail is, if not a trending topic, then one that a lot of people, including the network, are aware of. I love that NBC has embraced that.

My guess is that, in the next Olympics, the coverage will shift now that we know the audience can talk back. There ARE experts online. One effect I’d love to see: Better questions from the correspondents after a race is run! If we can see every twitch of muscle during competition, and the correspondents know so much during the events, why are both we and the athletes subjected to questions like “How are you feeling?”

3) Engagement. Are we driving tune-in? Is the audience staying engaged through FB, Twitter, NBC’s apps? Is there a revenue number that can be tied to heightened social media activity? NBC will no doubt keep those numbers close to the vest – but they have huge implications for the future of media, both social and traditional.

What do you think? Like I said — this is a quick thought, one I wanted to put out there and start a #conversation.



  1. Mark Lukasiewicz says:

    About that “news” the twitterverse delivered about Phelps dropping put of the 400m freestyle relay … oops.

    • Fred Graver says:

      Maybe “oops” today, but that’s what’s going to happen… and I can foresee a more coherent approach to the live / streamed / delayed model that would embrace that.

  2. Nicholas Barr says:

    NBC have justified tape delay saying “Our extensive research shows that viewers prefer watching the Olympics when they able to watch the Games most conveniently, which in most cases is in primetime, when they are home with their families”

    DVR penetration has already exceeded 50% in the US. As such, people increasingly have the ability to decide for themselves when is most convenient.

    Even the term ‘tape delay’ is archaic in a file-based world.

    I accept “It’s the journey, not the destination” works for drama. Breaking Bad has used this to fantastic effect with their opening “spoilers”. Likewise, tent-pole events such as the Royal Wedding were all about the content. But, sports are different. There is no script. Athletes are not actors. The excitement comes from the tension of not knowing the end results.

    Anyway, this is my whimsy on the situation:

  3. I wished the BBC here in the UK had embraced the social commentry and had some on screen visualisation of what people were saying on Social Networks. There were some very funny and complimentary tweets that could have been used.
    Even better i’d have liked to see Danny Boyle have a ‘digital’ section of the ceremony with homage being paid to the live tweeting audience. think this would have been spectacular.
    Maybe i’ll get a call next time!

    • Nicholas Barr says:

      I thought Tim Berners-Lee’s live tweet achieved this admirably.

    • That is an absolutely terrible idea. American television is the most vapid, advertisement filled garbage in the world. I want to watch Olympians compete, not idiots from around the country give their stupid biased and baseless opinions. If I wanted that, I would just go on Twitter while watching TV, like everyone already does.

  4. John MacDonald says:

    Not sure I agree about tweeting live events actually increasing interest in viewing. Would want to normalize/adjust Sat night competitive TV landscape for other, more compelling programs, (many nets “roll over” during olympics, especially on a Sat night when viewership is naturally low), and it did negatively impact my enjoyment/viewership of the event on NBC, (sample size: n=1). Agree lots to learn in this $1B lab, (thanks NBC). Personally find myself trying to avoid results, and invariably disappointed when I stumble upon something I didn’t want to know, (I live on the west coast). NBC is smart to embrace elements like #nbcfail–that’s where the learning is.

  5. It will be interesting to see how much TV learns on using social media outside of the ‘preset schedule sandbox’ they like to play in.
    The A&E location filter is a great example of how to help time shifted viewers engage without spoilers. Still, not showing the great social that went along with the content the first time around (or 2nd, or 120th) only limits the desired result of increased engagement.
    If driving tune in is the measurable, then increasing social traffic is the method. Limiting what people have to engage with – either by time filtering or people avoiding social for fear of spoilers – delivers neither of those.
    People absolutely tweet in real time – about something they are engaged in at that moment. At the same time, “Our extensive research shows that viewers prefer watching the Olympics when they able to watch the Games most conveniently..” So why not sync the social commentary to the content and make everyone happy?
    TV could better measure the full impact of social on their content by expanding the use social syncing, and give viewers the option of viewing a ‘global right now’ or the ‘conversion about this content’ social stream. Anyone can then insert breaking news on a running topic – right alongside the original content and posts.
    Real-time can be anytime for an insider, outsider, expert, or novice. Why keep pretending we all run around with an alarmed TV schedule app running?

  6. Fred – Great points re areas to learn about from the “Olympics TV experiment.” In particular, I couldn’t agree more about the need for much better sourcing of questions, background facts, expertise, audience (different segments) interest – using the vast amount of online and social conversation/resources. I’d love to be a “fly on the wall” in those NBC conversations looking at the data and working on drawing engagement conclusion and strategies – there is powerful stuff to be had there on both the business and creative side.

    Additionally, there is much to be learned (both from tech and behavior perspectives) about how to enable people to personalize their social – live (or time delayed) TV experience. Having #Olympics event page is useful and a great first step. But how about helping me to better customize the Twitter commentary I want to see (without having to go out and search for specific athletes etc) and syncing it to what I am watching whether that is network live or time delayed via an execs’s programming decision or my own DVR.

    For example – I watch DVR-time delayed swimming and I want to be able to pull up any Twitter activity around that event (that happened when others viewed it – which may not be my time), including tweets from specific athletes, countries, press, celebs and organizations I might not normally be following (and only want to follow for that one specific moment) – and would probably not spend the time to search out myself.

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