The Week In Review: How NBC Reversed Itself And Learned To Embrace Live Streams

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April 23, 2012 – 12:03 am

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NBC's Reverse-And-Learn

Given the fact that the sky didn't fall when NBC Universal streamed Super Bowl XLVI – over two million streamers didn't come close to cannibalizing the 111 million who watched worldwide – it's no surprise that the network did an about face on past years' policy regarding the Olympics broadcasts. As the network announced last week, all 32 sports will be streamed live.

Compared to NBCU's online offerings at the Winter Olympics two years ago, when just hockey and curling were the only primetime events that were streamed live, this represents a giant leap in the broadcaster's thinking. Still, that's not to say that NBCU is going to make all this live broadband video available without any strings attached. The strategy is certainly open, but it contains a good deal of caution, since, after all, primetime is where the real ad dollars are aimed.

While access will be free, viewers will have to sign on under their "pay TV provider." In other words, cord-cutters are out of luck. Secondly, NBCU tells the NYT's Richard Sandomir that events like swimming, diving, gymnastics, track and field, and beach volleyball will not be archived until well after the original live primetime broadcast. Probably not a big deal – after all, most non-linear views will take place in the days after the medals are handed out. However, if NBCU doesn't feature the archived content within hours, it could miss some opportunities.

The network is clearly aware of that, so the restrictions probably won't be too onerous. As Rick Cordella, VP/GM of NBC Sports Digital Media told the NYT, "Anytime you have a great event that happens before it shows on the air, it increases ratings and generates buzz."

Cordella pointed to 2011's French Open semifinal between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Online viewers got to see it live when the West Coast event was happening as the live broadcast was only available on the East Coast. The result, the buzz spreading from online viewers and those on the East Coast galvanized attention and built it up three hours later – just in time for West Coast viewers to tune in on TV. As a result, TV ratings were higher for the Pacific time viewers, thanks to the buzz that was built.

NBCU will be looking to do the same for the Olympics. Ultimately, NBCU's view is that streaming is additive, especially if carefully calibrated with the primetime broadcast.

CBS Finds Its Streaming GameSpot

While NBCU is finding its streaming sweet spot for the Olympics, CBS Interactive is expanding its everyday streaming games activity. Thanks to two new deals, the network will be serving up millions of minutes of online gaming streams, with an eye toward boosting ad dollars within a key demographic: young men18-34.

CBSi has struck exclusive partnerships with video game broadcast networks TwitchTV and Major League Gaming that aims to combine "the world's biggest live video gaming community with the most popular eSports league" for the network's video gaming hubs GameSpot. Right now, CBSi Games serves more than 3 billion minutes of live gaming and eSports content monthly.

TwitchTV claims to attract 16 million global users, while CBSi Games, which now has a total reach of 25 million users watching almost 50 million hours of live gaming video per month.

The partnership has CBSi exclusively selling advertising, promotions and sponsorships for TwitchTV. Meanwhile eSports league MLG is giving CBSi rights as the sole online broadcaster of its Pro Circuit competitions, as well as for advertising representation. MLG runs more than 15 million hours of live video served to fans during the 2011 Pro Circuit season, nearly 2,500 hours of live gaming competition scheduled in 2012 and thousands of the world's best players competing at MLG events annually.

The deals are important for CBSi in general sense – sports-related programming seems to attract insatiable amounts of attention from fans and in turn, that has advertisers increasingly looking for a way to tap the higher engagement that is typical of sports programming. On top of that, CBSi will be able to test whether viewers' desire for long-form sports content can support TV-like ad loads.

There's been a lot more talk lately about web consumers being more tolerant of larger ad loads. That still remains to be seen. But sports appears to be the best area to test that theory.

Jaci Hays, GameSpot's VP of sales, games and entertainment, told Adweek's Sam Thielman that "Average tune-in is like 23-30 minutes, because it's live," suggesting that viewers are willing to see more ads. But what about for programming that is not the kind of big-ticket, must-see event like Super Bowl or Olympics?

Fouad ElNaggar, CBSi's svp of strategy and corporate development, tells Adweek that the network is looking to niche sports and the stars within them to drive excitement from viewers and sponsors. The network is making a big bet – pun slightly intended – on non-traditional sports like World Series of Poker.

"You have these guys who are considered the Tiger Woods of poker, and we've got that happening in games now," ElNaggar said. For another thing, "there aren't that many places you can find 18-34-year-old males in a lean-back environment. [The advertisers] are trying to find these young guys who still watch 10 movies a year, who still buy DVDs."

But Wait. There's more!

By David Kaplan

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April 23, 2012 – 12:03 am

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