Oh yeah. Can you feel it? China apparently offered up quite the spectacle on this, the first day of the 2008 Summer Games. The opening ceremony was full of pomp, circumstance and glorious Chinese history as it culminated with gymnast Li Ning suspended above the stadium in wires. Most of us won’t see any of this until tonight when NBCU’s broadcast and cable properties bring it to us in primetime.
But the International Olympic Committee—despite having sold the U.S. broadcast and digital rights to NBCU for nearly $900mln—did it’s a little side deal this week to put an Olympic channel on YouTube. That’s right. The supposedly evil YouTube, whose users have become big media’s nemesis (and frankly, its viral marketing team… but don’t tell that to Viacom’s Sumner Redstone), has now partnered with the IOC to provide Olympic content to Internet video viewers.
Of course, YouTube fans in China are out of luck: The communist government blocks the site out of fear that some of its citizens might actually see or hear something that doesn’t tow the party line. Certainly this would never happen in a free country like the United States, right? Uh, actually… The IOC feed won’t be available here either. But it’s not the government that’s blocking access to American YouTube fans, it’s really just capitalism itself. NBCU paid big bucks for those U.S. rights, so obviously the IOC can’t turn around and compete with its licensee.
But in a way, this is all kind of silly. An estimated 200mln eyeballs around the world will indeed have access to YouTube’s Olympic channel, and at least some of those people will use free or extremely cheap software to record those streams and repost them somewhere—probably on YouTube! Others will post unauthorized clips of NBCU coverage. In addition, there will be all kinds of user-generated Olympics video clips flying around the Internet at the same time. But still, the idea that NBCU has somehow secured any real exclusivity outside the linear TV universe is really a misnomer. This is a multiplatform world.
So does this mean NBCU is in some sort of peril. Quite the contrary. The net can and most likely will blanket cyberspace with so much high-quality video that people won’t be tempted to figure out ways to view online Olympics-oriented content from other sources. In fact, NBCU is providing some 3600 hours of TV and Internet coverage, and you can rest assured that its quality will greatly surpass 99% or more of what else is out there floating around.
In many ways, the 2008 Summer Games will be a nice test case. After all, we’ll soon have all kinds of data about TV ratings, online streams and DVR behavior. Nielsen is even tracking mobile video usage now. NBCU, and by extension all of us, will know how, when and where people got their Olympics fix this year—and whether the multiplatform revolution brought big changes in viewer habits or simply confirmed that people still primarily watch big events like this on their TV sets. Whatever the case, here’s to a successful Olympics and perhaps a more unified world—at least for the next few weeks.