Someone needs to tell the International Olympic Committee about the world today. Tell it about the internet, social media, globalization and that the way we watch sports has changed.
The Olympics is a global sporting event but the International (International!) Olympic Committee (IOC) seems intent on making it an affair you have to suffer through alone on your couch with all the excitement drained out and stomped on. This isn’t a new problem (we’ve been complaining about it since 2012), but in 2016, it is time to get with the program.
Separately, the network which has the digital and broadcast rights to the Olympics in the U.S., NBC, has joined forces with the IOC to kill all social media fun, delay viewing for primetime and try to force people to play along with its ratings game.
In a time where social media and news alerts will give you the results instantly, most aren’t going to wait around for the old-school television machine to deliver their events as they sit down to an evening meal of meatloaf. It’s 2016 and people want to watch the Games live, with food delivered to their lap at 2 p.m. in the middle of a summer afternoon.
The Olympics seems set on pretending the global beast that is the internet doesn’t even exist. Its desperate attempt to keep people in their regional boxes is next to impossible — or at the very least, extremely frustrating.
So here is a guide to how the IOC is screwing up the Olympics Games in 2016. It’s straight out of the 20th century.
Social media blackouts are not cool
You can bury your head in the sand and pretend that distributed content is stealing away your audience, but in 2016, you cannot dictate how your audience consumes your content. You can sell TV rights for billions of dollars but you cannot make the people watch the TV.
The IOC released rules for everyone this Olympics explicitly stating that no one should even think about GIFing the Olympics, let alone sharing footage. Want to make a Vine of Michael Phelps’ face? You risk having your tweet deleted or being taken to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Terrifying.
“Spectators are able to capture footage for their own personal use, and posting still images is fine, however the right to publish or ‘broadcast’ footage is exclusive to the official Olympic broadcasters,” IOC spokesperson Benjamin Seeley said via email. They also noted social media content was distributed from approved platforms. No, you are not one of them.
We are saving the sporting world, be quiet.
The IOC explained that broadcast rights, which are apparently protected with the social media GIF and video ban, are the single greatest source of revenue for the Olympics. “The IOC distributes over 90% of the revenue it receives in order to support sport at all levels around the world,” Seeley noted. In other words: We are saving the sporting world, be quiet.
Some media publications have decided to take on that risk and some individuals are fighting back with all the GIFs, but mainly it has just become a major annoyance for anyone watching the games and wanting to share their favorite moments on social media.
In 2016, social media is a brand strategy. Think of all those extra eyeballs they could have had on Simone Biles and the Olympics brand. The Olympics not only cracked down on media outlets and individuals, it also made it very clear that non-sponsor brands had to cancel their social media parties too.
“Commercial entities may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts,” USOC CMO Lisa Baird wrote in the letter. “This restriction includes the use of USOC’s trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA.”
Don’t even think about it. You will be shut down.
That means that any brand that works with an Olympic athlete, but is not an official sponsor, cannot even tweet support for their athlete using a hashtag. Don’t even think about it. You will be shut down.
The broadcasters might have led the charge with decisions around social media content, but instead left it up to the IOC to dictate the rules. To make the restrictions work for the network and to reach a younger audience, NBC explained it partnered with brands such as Facebook, Snapchat, Google and YouTube. “They drove traffic to our live streams that generated unprecedented consumption of more than 3 billion total video minutes,” an NBC Sports spokesperson said.
Perhaps with video traffic like that, you don’t need organic social media posts to drive your brand awareness.
Screwing up video access for everyone
The Olympics, along with its broadcast partners in different regions, geoblocked online video content so it can only be viewed in that particular region. This is no doubt to honor regional TV rights and keep the cost of these rights at a premium.
The issue? The internet and social media is global. It is very hard to have a regional strategy when the internet is involved. Viewers playing along online in the UK cannot watch Olympic content coming from America. Viewers playing along in Australia cannot watch NBC videos. Even though it is exactly. the. same. content.
Broadcasters have even blocked their YouTube content if it is embedded off-platform. This is an especially confusing step due to the simple fact that the networks could have so many more YouTube views by allowing Olympic content to live anywhere. You can serve ads on this content, you can therefore make more money. Simple, really.
NBC believes it can control the content and its monetization more easily on its own platforms. “We have a significant financial investment in the Games and we can best monetize those rights on our own platforms or, in the case of highlights, those of our partners,” the spokesperson toldMashable via email.
NBC’s TV coverage is the worst in the world
Starting on the wrong foot, NBC delayed the opening ceremony by one hour on the east coast of the U.S. and by four hours on the west coast of the U.S. The bizarre nature of the American delay caused mass confusion on social media, where the ceremony was being tweeted about in real time.
Me, just waiting for NBC to air the #OpeningCeremony which is already happening.
The NBC Sports spokesperson told Mashable via email the opening ceremony delay was due to the network’s belief that extra depth needed to be added to the coverage.
“It’s not a sports competition. It’s a cultural ceremony that requires deep levels of understanding, with numerous camera angles and our commentary laid over it,” the statement read. “We think it’s important to give it the proper context. And primetime is still when the most people are available to watch. Also, presenting it on delay allows us to show the American audience more of the Opening Ceremony than a live broadcast, which would have portions cut out by commercials.”
Since then, NBC has been running prepackaged, highly-edited content from 8 p.m. to midnight every night. The company, it must be noted, has undertaken no small feat to curate its Olympic coverage, with a total of 6,755 hours of coverage including 4,500 streaming hours and 2,255 hours of television coverage being aired.
Why it couldn’t air one of the most anticipated American events in the Olympics live — the women’s gymnastics final — is anyone’s guess. The coverage on NBC aired a massive nine hours later on the west coast and stretched very late into the evening, making certain young fans were surely asleep by the time Simone Biles accepted her medal. The most egotistical part of the saga, though, was that NBC acted like the U.S. gold-medal event hadn’t even taken place.
“Given that gymnastics took place in the afternoon, we preferred to cultivate and package that coverage for primetime. Both women’s and men’s competitions were available to live stream on our digital platforms,” the NBC spokesperson said. In response to criticism that only 20 minutes of the men’s gymnastics was shown on delay, very late at night, NBC said: “It was difficult to find space in our primetime show that night, although we ultimately did.”
The BBC in the UK and Channel 7 in Australia have been serving content live, although they are not immune to criticism for an overload of ads and sometimes cutting away for things such as a Blake Lively interview and the nightly news. Though, so far, those networks’ coverage has generally received praise.
This is not Game of Thrones, people. This is a global, live, sporting event. Or at least it should be.
The primetime coverage in the U.S. has bizarrely created the need for news outlets (including NBC itself) to add “SPOILER ALERT” to live Olympic results and push alerts. What? This is not Game of Thrones, people. This is a global, live, sporting event. It’s news. Or at least it should be.
Delaying coverage for primetime in the U.S. and prepackaging events you think we want to watch may help you sell ads, but it won’t help you win fans. It also doesn’t let viewers experience the joy of the Olympic Games: interesting sporting events where unexpected countries can dominate.
“The vast majority of primetime content on NBC — including swimming, track and field, and beach volleyball — has been shown live in the eastern and central time zones,” the NBC spokesperson told Mashable.
The spokesperson also noted that all the events are available to live stream on desktops, mobiles, tablets and connected TVs.”[People] can also gather together around the TV to watch NBC’s primetime presentation at a time when most people are available to watch,” the company said. Ah, family time.
To be fair, NBC does offer an excellent experience with live events on its online streaming service and its curated product, Gold Zone, which it says is “1000% live.” You can watch any event at any time on the services, but you have to have a cable subscription to login.
NBC’s coverage has been widely panned across the country, from its sometimes sexist commentary to the belief that the only sports that matter are gymnastics and swimming. But a network trying to make the country work to its schedule is the epitome of everything that has been wrong with this Olympics. In a time where Ryan Lochte wants to be the center of the universe, NBC needs to deal with the fact that the U.S. isn’t the only country in the world.
Yay, a new Olympics channel for when the Olympics ends
The IOC announced it is launching a so-called Olympic Channel at the conclusion of this Olympics. I’m sure in some executive’s mind it makes a lot of sense to launch this product after the Games are over.
“Designed for a global audience, the Olympic Channel digital platform will showcase content from around the world,” a press release reads. “… The dynamic environment also allows videos to be easily shared across social media, and encourages users to regularly interact with the Olympic Movement.”
It may strike everyone struggling to get involved in the 2016 Olympics as totally weird, but perhaps it shows there is hope for 2020. Perhaps it will be the year the IOC finally realizes the internet has arrived. Send in the GIF makers.
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