The 2008 Olympics: The Defining Moment for Video 2.0, or Opportunity Lost?

8/26/08

[Editor's note: This Xconomist Forum post is a revised, updated version of an essay contributor Matt Kaplan wrote for the PermissionTV blog on August 9, 2008.]

Every four years I look forward to the summer Olympic Games. It’s not so much that I’ll sit down and watch the coverage non-stop, but there are a few sports that I look forward to watching, and the occasional event that catches my attention by surprise. (Beach volleyball, anyone?) This year, with so many hours being produced by NBC, I waited in anticipation for what could be the defining moment of Video 2.0. Was this going to be the moment when traditional television and the Web fused together to give us a blended experience like never before? An experience that allowed us to both lean back and watch the NBC drama unfold and lean forward to self-produce our own Olympic channels? An experience that provided the right amount of live-action coverage, video-on-demand, expert commentary, tear-jerking athlete profiles, game history and statistics? A personalized experience that made us stop and say, “Wow, now this is what we’ve been waiting for?”

Don’t get me wrong—the sheer ability to watch over 2,000 hours of coverage was great, and the lessons NBC learned from the 1992 Triplecast debacle allowed us to watch it all for free. I was just hoping that the 2008 Olympics would mark the turning point for the online video experience and herald the arrival of a new blended medium. Unfortunately, this opportunity was lost.

In the end, we basically had two distinct experiences: a traditional TV broadcast carefully orchestrated by NBC, and a video site that was essentially a tribute to everything wrong with online Video 1.0—short video clips, a cluttered user interface, and more links than there are stones in the Great Wall of China. I’m sure NBC saw the website as a way to deliver more long-tail video content than what it could handle over the broadcast channels. It also gave the network a way to stream on-demand replays while cramming banners and sponsorships into every nook and cranny of available white space. I’m not against the ad-supported format, and I even enjoy watching creative ads produced for the Olympics. Just don’t insult viewers by turning off player controls such as “Enlarge Video” while pre-roll ads are playing. Believe it or not, users might have wanted to watch ads in higher quality or better yet, engage with them if allowed to. Instead the video ads were mostly repurposed TV spots, but fuzzier, more repetitive and equally static.

Sure, I could have watched hours of live streaming video on the web and swapped between multiple feeds with the ease of a TV clicker. But there was nothing particularly inventive about the online experience, and there definitely was no continuity between it and the broadcast feed. I wanted the online video experience to be an extension of the live broadcast feed, to enhance it with in-depth profiles and timely features that weren’t going to be shown on air. There were in fact, many attempts by NBC to drive viewers from the broadcast feed to the website, but they simply referred us to the main website, NBCOlympics.com, rather than to a specific landing page or URL.

So instead of an online video experience that brought the most important Olympic highlights to the forefront, I fell victim to watching what others deemed as “most popular.” No, it wasn’t Michael Phelps winning his historic eighth gold medal or Usain Bolt smashing his own world record in the 100-meter race. It was the Cuban taekwondo fighter Matos kicking the ref in the face after he was disqualified. I doubt that’s the lasting memory that NBC wants its viewers to have.

OK, so enough negativity. The sheer magnitude of it all was impressive—but I thought I’d make some specific suggestions on how to improve the Olympic viewer experience in 2010.

  • Use the on-line medium to enhance the live TV broadcast. Drive viewers from the broadcast to specific replays, athlete profiles, and other programming online. Prompt viewers with specific keywords such as “PHELPS” or “GYMNASTICS” to bring them quickly to the on-line video content.
  • Let viewers personalize their ideal Olympic coverage. Allow viewers to create a personalized schedule so they know when and where to tune in to watch their events. Let viewers define their sport or athlete “watch list” and automatically build a personalized library of daily video highlights.
  • Allow viewers to influence the live broadcast schedule. To maximize the TV broadcast audience, allow viewer voting or preferences to influence what will air on the upcoming live broadcast instead of choosing the coverage for them.
  • Combine highlights and full replays into one experience. Allow viewers to begin watching highlights of an event, then extend their viewing to include more of that particular game or match as desired. Likewise, allow viewers to begin watching a full replay then switch modes to see just the highlights.
  • Take advantage of low-cost citizen journalism. Invite former Olympians, athletes, entertainers, or even broadcasting students to provide commentary for online videos rather than airing them in silence.
  • Give advertisers more value for their money. To enhance the ad experiences, provide an on-line video library for advertisers to tell their stories in more than 30 seconds (not less). Allow for richer, interactive ad formats that engage viewers.

For all the money that was spent on pure video production and delivery, I just wish a fraction could have been spent on transforming the video experience into something more integrated, more personalized, more enjoyable and more remarkable. Perhaps it’s a matter of money, where the advertising dollars for the website are dwarfed by those of the broadcast network. Or perhaps it’s a case of an organizational divide, where the suits who run the network don’t mingle with the jean-wearing nerds who build websites.

Regardless, until viewer needs are put first, we’ll have to put our Olympic 2.0 dreams on hold until Vancouver, 2010.

Matt Kaplan is vice president of solutions and chief strategy officer at PermissionTV in Waltham, MA. Follow @

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  • http://twitter.com/jamesonbull Jamie

    I think the fatal flaw was connecting web viewing to your TV provider. I know several people who didn’t have access to certain live videos because of whatever agreements their local NBC affiliates did or did not have.

    Many ended up having to lie when signing in and say they lived somewhere else, or had another provider like DirectTV.

  • AndyD

    This was the BIGGEST web disappointment of Aug 08.
    As a viewer it, was soo “clunkly” I gave up on it in the end.
    As a revenue business it was an even bigger miss for NBC and their local stations. All those lost dollars!