During the last decade, there have been profound changes in media use patterns, not only in the United States, but in many countries around the globe. To a large extent, these changes are a result of new media technologies that have increased consumers’ options in regard to the type and origin of content.
 
In 2008, NBCU invested in an “Olympic Research Lab,” which provided new insights into media behavior in the U.S. and also revealed emerging usage patterns likely to evolve during the next years – particularly those that will impact how the audience wants to experience Olympic coverage and other content in the near future. The findings are summarized in the following ten points to provide both an overview of how Olympics programming was consumed and how that consumption reflects more general changes in media behavior overall.  
 
1 – TV IS (STILL) KING
As a lot of attention today is focused on the emergence of online video, it is sometimes overlooked that television is still the most widely used medium by far. The Olympics research confirmed that over 90% of the content was consumed on a television set, and majorities in all age groups used only television. 
 
2 – HD BOOSTS TV APPEAL  
The research clearly supported the assumption that high-definition technology would enhance the TV experience and help make the TV set the preferred way of watching content – especially sports – for many consumers. In surveys, NBCU found that 93% of viewers who watched Beijing coverage in HD agreed that “watching the Olympics in HDTV adds to my enjoyment.” Data also suggested that HD is similarly important for other sports, major TV events and movies.
 
3 – MOST CONSUMERS USE AND EXPECT MULTIPLE CONTENT PLATFORMS
Television’s dominance during the Beijing Olympics in terms of reach and time spent does not mean that other platforms were not important. Online use was four times larger than during the Torino Games only two years earlier (in 2006) and there was, for the first time, mobile Olympic video usage.
 
4 – DIGITAL CONTENT CAN ENHANCE AND INCREASE TV VIEWING
Another new finding was that the availability of multi-platform coverage can increase TV viewing time and satisfaction with the coverage and the event overall. Contributing factors were the constant availability of TV scheduling information and the additional video content. This was a critical finding since there was concern that online video might cannibalize the TV audience.
 
5 – CONSUMERS LOVE TO CONTROL THEIR CONTENT EXPERIENCES
The research confirmed that American consumers are increasingly getting used to – and enjoying – controlling their content experiences. This was evident during the Olympics, even though there was less DVR time-shifting when compared to primetime TV series. At the same time, interest in controlling content should not be interpreted as a desire to interact with or create content. For most consumers, it’s primarily about choosing the content desired, on the preferred platform at the preferred time. That choice may be typical “couch potato” viewing, but increasingly that traditional behavior is only one of several facets of most consumers’ media use repertoire today.
 
 6 – THE INTERNET HAS A STRONG INFORMATIONAL FUNCTION
As online video viewing has exploded, it’s sometimes overlooked that the Internet in general (and the majority of websites) have a strong informational function. This was evident during the Olympic Games too. There was a lot of video viewing, but most online usage was of data – from TV schedules to athlete profiles to information on how sports performances are rated by judges. This further reinforces the notion that the Internet and television offer different benefits and one is not replacing the other.
 
7 – ONLINE CONTENT HAS TO BE TAILORED TO AUDIENCE INTERESTS AND EXPECTATIONS
The growth in new media technology penetration and the changes in consumers’ use of those technologies doesn’t mean that consumers adopt technology indiscriminately. In fact, since there is more competition for consumers’ media time, they are choosier than ever. This is true for all platforms, but it has special implications for websites, which now need to serve sophisticated web-mavens, as well as late adopters who are looking for simple, easy navigation. Thus, it is important to not only consider the audience’s interest regarding content, but also their needs regarding the form in which the content is presented. A tailored user experience is absolutely critical.
 
8  – THE OLYMPICS ARE AN EXTRAORDINARILY POWERFUL ADVERTISING PLATFORM
In the U.S., the Olympics are broadcast on commercial networks that depend on sponsor and advertiser revenues to provide coverage of the games. Over the years, it has frequently been demonstrated that the Olympics provide a superior advertising platform and that Olympic sponsorship is very effective.
 
9 – MULTI-PLATFORM ADVERTISING WORKS
As the Beijing Olympics involved more multi-platform coverage, usage, and sponsorship than previous Games, it was important to document the effectiveness of multi-platform sponsorship and advertising strategies. In fact, the “Olympic Lab” provided strong evidence that viewers were consuming advertising across all media.  
 
10 – HOWEVER… NEW METHODS ARE NEEDED TO ADEQUATELY MEASURE NEW MEDIA USAGE PATTERNS
One of the unique features of the commercial media business is that the product being sold is the measurement. Media companies depend on precise measures that document exposure to advertising and use those measures as currency in negotiations with advertisers. As online and mobile video emerge as new ways to consume “TV” or video content, measures of exposure to multimedia content or advertising from the same  individual – or a new currency – is needed. We must not only track the evolving media usage behavior but also document the unduplicated reach and frequency of ads, if we’re to develop multimedia sponsorship and advertising as a robust business.
 
In summary, the Olympics Research Lab provided important consumer insights – not simply as a snapshot during the Beijing Olympics, but also in the context of ongoing research into the evolution of the media landscape and associated behaviors. We can rely on this and similar work as the basis for better forecasts regarding the pace and direction of change.   

(Horst Stipp is the SVP Strategic Insights & Innovation for NBCU. He’s a 40-year veteran and currently involved in all aspects of sales research, social research and strategic insights for all the NBCU properties).

 
 
 
 

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