Point. Click. Profit. (As published in The Business Journal)

Audience Profiles, Social Media, and Olympic Coverage


For its 2012 Olympics coverage, NBC has taken a hit from viewers loudly complaining through social media of all the ways they have been let down–for example:

Seriously? I stay off Twitter all day & right before Missy Franklin swims NBC runs a promo for the gold medal interview with her? #NBCFail

NBC executives protest that their coverage is getting fantastic ratings, so they must be doing something right. Time magazine’s TV critic opined:

NBC tape delay coverage is like the airlines: its interest is in giving you the least satisfactory service you will still come back for.

Part of the strategy planning that goes into any effective media campaign is developing a thorough understanding of your target audience. This is not always a homogeneous group. Typically there are several different profiles within the larger group, each with distinct needs and expectations.

For example, some Olympics viewers are just interested in good, fun competition and are willing to watch whatever competitive events happen to be on when they tune in. Others are looking only for specific sports, like track and field events and will seek out live coverage if possible. Others, still, may be interested in whatever makes a good story, like Michael Phelps’s record-setting gold medal haul or Usain Bolt’s becoming the first ever to twice win gold in the 200-meter dash.

NBC’s challenge in effectively delivering coverage of the games is, therefore, accurately identifying its audiences and meeting their expectations. Because of the enormous cost of purchasing the broadcast rights, NBC seems to have focused primarily on delivering viewers to its sponsors during prime time hours. And here it has been successful. Tens of millions have turned out for its prime time, tape-delayed coverage.

Meanwhile, the network has also taken the unprecedented step of streaming all the sports events live on the web (for those who can prove they buy either cable or satellite service).

The missing piece is live coverage of major events on television. It seems that a great many people still prefer watching the games live on TV from the comfort of their couch or easy chair. And if they’re also following the results on Facebook and Twitter, not to mention the Associated Press, by the time they sit down at 7pm to watch, they already know the results to the main events. (Of course, NBC has cited research suggesting those who know the results are even more likely to tune in to watch, even on tape delay.)

It all leaves me wondering if there are other ways for NBC to effectively monetize its coverage while still pleasing the social media horde. After all, what better way to please advertisers than by delivering them a rush of eyeballs right when the results of a medal contest are being publicized?

How about this: quickly make archived events available online for streaming right after they happen. Push the link out to Twitter and Facebook, along with the results, and when viewers arrive to see the event, start the clip with a 15-second ad for Old Spice or Progressive or what-have-you. Something like this:

Missy Franklin medals in 100m Backstroke. Stream it now at NBC Sports! http://nbcsports.com/backstroke

The bottom line is that, while you can’t please everyone, by attempting to thoroughly understand and segment your audience, you can create strategies that are a win-win for business and consumer. Recognizing that the audience watching for updates on Twitter may not be the same audience sitting down for prime-time coverage creates an imperative to address the needs of each audience with a distinct approach.

Some critics will never be happy and just like to complain. They will never admit, for instance, that no audience will be awake at 3am to watch Olympic badminton live. Accurate audience profiling, however, should anticipate complaints and predict an effective counter-strategy.


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