May 05, 2012, 7:40 AM — I have been far from nice when it comes to my opinion of NBC's understanding of the power of the Internet when it comes to Olympic coverage. Six years ago I had the Pollyannaish view that NBC would stumble on the Internet when it next broadcast the Olympics. ("The last pre-Internet Olympics?") I was wrong and complained again the next time the Olympics came around ("NBC Olympic coverage: Is the Internet the enemy?").
Now it is just about time for the next round of the Olympics (this summer in London) and NBC finally seems to have gotten some clue.
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NBC has announced that it will be doing 3,500 hours of live streaming, including all 32 sports and all 302 medal events. NBC will be doing this only to the United States due to the license it bought from the Olympics; other broadcasters will be providing various levels of streaming in their own licensed areas. This part is good news. It has taken NBC a very long time to understand that people do like live events and withholding such coverage to parcel it out in prime time mostly annoyed people and likely did not change the prime time audience all that much.
One feature of the NBC plans, though, indicates that the network still does not understand its viewers or the Internet.
You can only get the live NBC streaming if you are a subscriber to one of 22 "participating cable, satellite or iTV providers." Woe be to you if you watch TV over the air. Deep down, or maybe not so deep down, by putting on this restriction NBC is admitting that its own Olympic coverage is not good enough to attract viewers on its own and it needs to distort things (and likely funnel ads) to make back its huge investment in the games. If the prime time coverage were any good, letting people see what was coming in a little PC window would encourage them to tune in. But, unless NBC has exchanged its DNA for a new set, the coverage will be the same over-produced, vastly over-talked about and over-analyzed Vegas-style extravaganza it has been since NBC got the franchise.
Despite the restrictions, this is far better than what NBC has done to date. A lot of people will be watching a lot of coverage on their office computers -- be ready for a spate of news articles detailing how many millions of dollars in wasted employee time this will mean. It will also be producing a lot of Internet traffic.