Olympics: Making the Most of A Major Investment

Major events like the Olympics and Oscars offer a rare opportunity for marketers in this changing media landscape.

CBS attracted the biggest-ever audience to a live event with this year's Super Bowl — people tuned in, in real time and eagerly watched ads. This Olympics provides a different kind of opportunity for NBC. Our parent network has been upfront with the fact that it won't profit from this year's Olympics — GE has indicated they could lose as much as $250 million on the event that's on track to generate as much as $700 million in revenue. But the big games could be very useful for years to come: they could re-invent advertising into a true multi-platform, integrated business.

View of the BC Place Stadium which will host the Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies in downtown Vancouver.
Mark Ralston | AFP | Getty Images
View of the BC Place Stadium which will host the Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies in downtown Vancouver.

NBC is using the big games to perform an unprecedented study of the way people consume content on multiple platforms.

As media consumption patterns become increasingly muddled by new devices and platforms, NBC will track how certain individuals move between various options, from web, to iPhone, to TV.

More accurate information about the way people watch should lead to more accurate — higher — ad prices.

The Olympics provide a rare opportunity because they're stretched out over two weeks and they're available not just on TV, but also online and on mobile phones. NBC's pulling out the big guns, working with Arbitron, Omniture, and ComScore to get granular data not just when they're watching, but whether people go-online to re-watch something they first saw on TV. Why would someone watch certain Olympic event on their mobile phone when they're sitting at home by the TV?

Under what occasions do people have their computer and the TV tuned to the same information?

NBC is really making the most out of this research opportunity — even looking at what people are saying about what they're watching. In addition to teaming up with Google to see what searches people are doing about the content it's broadcasting, it's hiring a research firm that tracks word-of-mouth. The fact that this year's games aren't in a far-flung time zone like Torino should work to boost ratings and give the network a bigger sample.

Earlier this week I asked Disney CEO Bob Iger about ABC's big investment in broadcasting the Oscars. He said with a smile that whether an investment in broadcasting rights is worth it all depends on how much you pay. But Iger was unabashedly enthusiastic about the *idea* of being involved in big, can't-miss events. Iger is particularly excited about the Oscars this year because doubling the nominees for best picture to 10 should help grow the show's audience.

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games - See Complete Coverage
Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games - See Complete Coverage

Content is increasingly commoditized, there's tons of it and it's everywhere. So when a network partners with a rare event, they're allying themselves with content that's very much in demand on all those platforms.

Even if it's a pricey investment the dividends could be paid out over a long period of time.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com