Do the Olympics Actually Have to be Live?

July 31, 2012 | Gerry Praysman
Do the Olympics Actually Have to be Live?

The digital and broadcasting communities have already learned a lot from this year’s Summer Olympics, and they’ve only just begun. We learned that despite the efforts of a great nation, the opening ceremony is a tough performance to pull off to the liking of the Twittersphere:

olympic tweets

We learned that no athlete achieves greatness without a strong support system, made all the more epic when put on YouTube. But most importantly, we here at Brainshark learned that on-demand content is rip-roaring its way to being a necessity for audiences around the world.

bob costas liveAfter all, this year’s games are dubbed by some as “the first digital Olympics” since they are being live-streamed by NBC and complemented by Comcast’s on-demand library of each medal event, ready to go by 6 a.m. the morning following the recorded event. They even got Bob Costas to open each morning with a round-up of the highlights. If Bob Costas’s beaming smile and superhuman dedication to the memorization of every Olympic fact since the beginning of time doesn’t scream “Olympics”…I don’t know what does.

But despite being the first digital Olympics, they seem to just not be digital enough for some viewers.

The tape delay, shoddy stream quality, and the insistence to air a recorded version of the hottest events during primetime have all drawn the ire of Twitter users all over the world. Other than conditioning viewers to win a gold medal in Team Complaining, the proliferation of social media, mobile, and smart devices has conditioned us to expect content where we want it, and when we want it. That’s essentially the definition of on-demand viewing and we now see the need for it spill over from our busy lives in the business world to our busy lives in the, well…regular world.

So did NBC and Comcast really get it wrong? Did they only give us an inch when we really wanted a mile? Author Jeff Jarvis wrote a pretty balanced post on why viewers have the right to complain and why NBC are actually doing a lot better than people are giving them credit for. I mean, they do have record numbers this year for viewership…

But I think an equally interesting question to ask would be, “If you could only choose one option, having to tune-in live or seeing it recorded, what would it be?”

Certainly, seeing it live is awesome – but not everyone can do that for obvious reasons. Like I mentioned, we’re all over the place these days. Think about how much television content you record or watch online after the fact. The convenience of being able to hit play when you want to isn’t just a “nice-to-have” – it’s been changing communication throughout the entire business environment and home-viewing market for years. It’s no surprise that 55 million US TV households have Video-On-Demand (VOD) access.

There’s something to be said for the experience of watching something like the Olympics live…and complaining sharing it on Twitter, but I think this Comcast on-demand library of events is catering to more people – they just aren’t voicing their appreciation as much as others are voicing their concerns.  

I guess the safe bet is, in keeping with the increasingly tough standards of the public, you need to have both live and on-demand viewing. You need to provide them very efficiently too! But while live viewing will always have its place, on-demand will continue to grow at an epic pace.


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