Proponents of TV Everywhere will be taking a close look at NBCUniversal's groundbreaking effort to offer 3,500- plus hours of London Summer Olympics coverage starting this week, marking the first time that authenticated subscribers of more than 100 multichannel providers in the U.S. will be able to access live streams of all 32 sports and every competition.
Making the digital distribution of content part of larger pay TV offerings has, in recent years, become central to the business strategies of both programmers and operators as a way to stave off the threat of over-the-top video, and boost their already lucrative pay TV business.
But the promise of TV Everywhere platforms delivering all of an operator's programming to all devices remains something of a mirage. As programmers and operators continue to feud over the digital rights necessary for expansive offerings, consumers have complained about a cumbersome authentication process and the confusion created by a hodgepodge of programming that varies widely from operator to operator.
That makes NBCU's Olympian effort notable both for the size of the offering and the work done to overcome some long-standing problems.
"This is the most expansive digital effort in Olympics history," notes Rick Cordella, senior VP and general manager of NBC Sports Digital for the NBC Sports Group. "When it's all over, we hope that people will walk away thinking that NBC Olympics [coverage] raised the bar for what digital media can be."
While NBC will not be streaming its live primetime coverage, it will offer most everything else for free to authenticated subscribers, including live streams from four NBCU cable channels and feeds from the International Olympic Committee's Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) covering all the events.
NBCU has also secured deals with more than 100 major multichannel providers serving as much as 98% of the pay TV universe. "They wanted to make sure that everyone who has pay TV can access the content, and that the authentication system is integrated into all the major U.S. operators," says Ashley Still, director of product management, video solutions for Adobe, which designed and built two NBC Olympics apps and is providing a number of different solutions for the authentication and streaming effort.
Some advances are also being made in the login process. NBCU's apps are designed so that users only have to authenticate their iPad or other device the first time they access the content. Some operators have streamlined the process even further by setting up systems that automatically log in users that subscribe to both their video and high-speed data services.
Cordella says NBC worked with Adobe to simplify the user interface and to make it easier to find upcoming events. The video player, which mimics the one used by NBC for its NFL and Super Bowl streams, also has DVR capabilities and a variety of other features, including different camera angles for some events.
And in an important move, NBCU and multichannel operators have embarked on an extensive educational and marketing campaign that includes promos, video tutorials, mailings and other efforts.
"They've taken a multifaceted approach to educate consumers and drive awareness and usage," says Michael Bishara, VP and general manager of TV Everywhere at Synacore, which is providing authentication and other services to about 40 operators who are offering their subscribers Olympic coverage.
NBCU has considerable experience handling high-traffic events, having streamed the first Super Bowl this year to about 2.1 million users. NBCU has entered into an alliance with Google's YouTube to manage streaming of the Games. "They do a massive amount of video delivery every day," notes Cordella.
All of this will also be extremely important for NBCU's efforts to maximize revenue. NBC inserts different ads into the linear TV channels and the digital video streams, which is designed to create an additional source of revenue.
But the broadcaster also hopes that the streaming efforts and its alliances with YouTube, Facebook and Twitter on Olympics coverage will boost primetime ratings. "We think getting good content out to as many people as possible will help drive ratings and buzz in primetime," Cordella says.
If so, that could also help increase overall interest in TV Everywhere offerings. "When you have high-profi le events like the Olympics and you see NBC offering 3,500 hours of coverage, it is a terrific opportunity to expose people to the value of TV Everywhere in a way that could benefit the whole industry," Bishara says.
NBC's move to offer a record amount of content this year on digital platforms represents a major shift from earlier Olympics, when executives still feared that streaming video might cannibalize primetime viewing. Cordella notes that they made the shift in strategy because, "we haven't seen any data of our own or from any other place showing that having content out there prior to broadcast or simultaneous to broadcast actually hurt the ratings."
In fact, a number of their significant digital efforts and alliances are designed to help boost TV ratings and traffic to their sites, particularly among younger views.
While NBC is only making its London Games coverage available at NBCOlympics.com and NBC branded apps, some photos and other content will also appear on YouTube and Facebook to drive traffic to the NBC platforms.
"YouTube has a huge audience on the website and a younger very video-centric audience," Cordella says. "So it made sense to work with them to try to drive that traffic back to us."
Social media is playing a central role in the promotional efforts. "I guess you could say that mobile, tablet and social media are the big changes from prior Olympics, even Vancouver," Cordella says. "Any digital strategy for 2012 requires a robust, complete social strategy."
As part of that effort, NBC has cut high-profile alliances with both Facebook and Twitter.
The NBC Olympics page on Facebook will feature a variety of content, and Facebook social media tools will also make their way into NBCU's coverage of the games on TV, where viewers will see the results of Facebook polls and tools that track what Facebook users are saying about the events.
NBC has also created specific on-air promos to help drive viewers to its social media activities.
In addition to its TV Everywhere app, NBC Olympics Live Extra for the live streams, NBC and Adobe have also developed a second app, NBC Olympics, which doesn't require authentication.
NBC Olympics offers schedules and result along with other content. Here, NBC has also created an innovative second-screen "Primetime Companion" feature that is designed to be used along with its primetime coverage, providing synched-up additional videos, bios, trivia, polls and other content tied to the live events.
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