Beijing 2008 Olympics On NBCAre the big television networks finally getting a grasp on the digital age and what the Web means for their business? If NBC’s coverage of the Beijing 2008 opening ceremony is anything to go by, they still have a lot to learn.

NBC’s coverage of the Beijing 2008 Olympics has hit piracy issues on the first day of the Games. And it’s all because the TV network decided to delay broadcasting the opening ceremony for 12 hours.

Advertising Revenue Delay

The reason NBC did this was purely down to money – the opening ceremony started at 5am U.S. time, and this just wouldn’t bring in the advertising revenue that a prime time slot of 5pm would.

This kind of strategy would have been fine even just four years ago during the last Olympic Games. But times have changed, and the Web now offers people global access to events like this, live, unfettered, and not dependent on advertisers demands.

Turn To The Web

So the obvious happened: American viewers with Internet access (a high proportion) decided to venture online to watch the opening ceremony live at the same time as the rest of the world.

Indeed, NBC was the only broadcaster to take this misguided path. The BBC in the UK, CBC in Canada, Televisa in Mexico, and NHK in Japan all broadcast the opening ceremony as it happened, regardless of the time difference and the potential loss of advertising revenue that resulted.

YouTube & Justin.tv

The Americans who did venture online were spoilt for choice, with people uploading clips to YouTube as they happened, and several live streams running on Justin.tv.

NBC swiftly got in touch with all the sources where piracy of the footage NBC owns exclusive rights to in the U.S. was being broadcast. Google struggled to take down the YouTube clips before thousands watched them, and though the Justin.tv streams were halted, you know there will more to replace them as the Olympics continues.

We Did Wrong?

NBC isn’t admitting any wrongdoing however. According to The New York Times, Gary Zenkel, the president of NBC Olympics, said in a statement:

“We have a billion dollars worth of revenue at stake here, so that means we’re not public television, for better or worse.”

A Lot Still To Learn

NBC is making the leap in to the digital age with this Olympics, promising 2,200 hours of live coverage on the Web, which compares to just four hours the last time around. But for the opening ceremony, the network judged people’s viewing wishes badly wrong.

The Internet changes television in a fundamental way – people know that they can watch footage of any event somewhere online, be it via torrents, YouTube or live streaming sites. In that environment, the decision by NBC to delay broadcasting such an important event seems absolutely stupid.

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