Friday 26th April 2019

The Good, The Bad And The Unknown Of NBC’s Digital Olympics Coverage

The Good, The Bad And The Unknown Of NBC’s Digital Olympics Coverage

The Good, The Bad And The Unknown Of NBC’s Digital Olympics Coverage
Image via Comcast

The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are set to be the most technologically advanced television event of all time. Offering over 4,500 hours of streaming content, with some events in new 4K HDR and virtual reality, NBC aims to advance sports broadcasting into unprecedented territory. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed the rapid advancement of digital broadcasts over the past two decades, especially with what will be expected to be the most watched event of the year.

NBC Universal will build off advancements made during Olympics past for Rio 2016. In 2012, NBC was able to offer far more comprehensive coverage of the London Olympics by leaving most of the work back in the United States. NBC’s @home program reduced costs the company made in Olympics past (by sending reporters, crew, and other staff overseas) and redirected funds towards its digital platform. As a result, NBC offered 3,500 hours of digital streaming in 2012 for anyone with a TV subscription, and the opportunities will only get bigger for 2016, with more comprehensive and digital-exclusive coverage offered for the Rio Olympics.

The Good

NBC will offer 1,000 more hours of content thanks to the technological capabilities of its new media center in Stamford, Connecticut, first used for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The center will house over 1,100 staffers responsible for editing, replays, and live broadcasting almost 5,000 miles away in Brazil, all broadcasted with a much shorter tape delay thanks to Rio’s time zone proximity to the United States.

The NBC Sports App will also debut app-exclusive content, shifting focus from traditional broadcasting towards cordless content delivery. The Rio Olympics will give NBC the opportunity to present itself as the major player in digital sports coverage, a title that would establish itself as a serious competitor to ESPN’s control of the digital sports marketplace. Not everything, however, looks optimistic for the Olympics broadcast.

The Bad

There is no cordless option for the Rio Olympics, which means that anyone wishing to stream the events must first subscribe to a cable or satellite television provider. This is not because NBC cannot offer the Olympics a la carte, as they are currently doing for the Tour de France, but because NBC Universal’s parent company Comcast has a financial interest in keeping traditional cable broadcasting viable in the digital age.

There is also no guarantee that the 2016 games will be a success. With concerns over political corruption, athletes pulling out of competition, the Zika virus, doping scandals, and smoldering public unrest in Brazil, there is a good chance that NBC won’t be able to retain its record-breaking viewership numbers from 2012. Fewer viewers might discourage NBC and any other broadcasting service from investing any more money into digital platforms, and it’s possible that the Olympics’ digital advancement will slow considerably in the next few years. This is just one of the broadcast’s unknown variables, however.

The Unknown

NBC’s foray into virtual reality is a small but necessary step if VR is to become viable anytime soon. Though only 85 hours of VR content will be made available, a good VR broadcast of the opening ceremony and the most popular events might convince broadcasters of VR’s hopeful future (if anyone can get their hands on the Samsung Gear VR headset, thanks once again to exclusive licensing rights).

Also unknown is whether Americans still care about the Olympics. Even though the 2012 London Olympics were the most watched television event ever in the United States, many believe that the Olympics are no longer the juggernaut it once was. NBC’s digital advancements may end up as the catalyst to a reinvigorated interest stateside, or it might be the strongest evidence towards a dying broadcast model. Whichever way it goes, the 2016 Olympics in Rio will play a significant role in the future of sports broadcasting.


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