It is common knowledge that the Olympics is one of the biggest media events in the world; in 2008, broadcasts from the Beijing Summer Games made up 4 of the top 10 single telecasts in the United States (the other top events were 5 football games and the Academy Awards). This year the games will be monumentally big- according to Ofcom, the UK media regulator, the 2012 London Games will be “the biggest media event in history.”
It is estimated that about 26,000 members of the world’s media will descend on the English capital and thence disseminate stories, pictures, and videos; however, no mention is given to the amount of secondary journalism which will be going on in nearly ever other city across the globe. Armed with Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, armchair coaches, amateur sports statisticians, Olympic history buffs and fans of Usain Bolt everywhere will be making their mark on Olympic coverage this year, and NBC will be cheering them on.
Social and traditional media have a growing, if wary, rapport. Much has been made of the “symbiotic relationship” between Twitter and television; partnerships such as that between the TV show “The X Factor” and Twitter are what keep CEO Dick Costolo optimistic about the financial future of his company. Interestingly enough, Twitter’s widest television integration to date was also an English event- last year’s royal wedding.
While television programs keen to profit from social media usually turn to Twitter, Facebook is clearly eager to break into the realm of traditional media. After a wide gamma of TV-related deals (with the likes of Comcast, Hulu, Netflix, and others) and apps, it looks like the king of social media may have finally found its big chance on the small screen- Facebook and NBC Universal’s NBC Olympics division announced an official collaboration last week.
Sports have a particular proclivity towards social media- fans are three times more likely to get their breaking sports news from social media than from television, and checking scores is one of the top uses of tablet computers and smartphones.
In addition, sporting events are routinely the most-watched television broadcasts, which makes an official partnership between the number one social media platform and the network covering the sporting event of the year seem like it must be a lucrative deal. But for who? Is it Facebook that is shelling out loads of cash for the official spot on the NBC screens or is the Peacock Network paying for the privilege of having the younger, fresher network on board?
Neither is the case, as it turns out. No cash will change hands during the deal and in fact there doesn’t seem to be a lot of money to be earned in the reportage of these Olympic Games- NBC has announced that it doesn’t expect to make a profit once the $1.18 billion rights fee has been paid. The TV network stands to gain something other than short-term profits from the collaboration with Facebook, what NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus calls a “legacy.”
Lazarus replaced longtime chairman Dick Ebersol last year and has brought a new philosophy with him. Where Ebersol abhorred live streaming of events on the internet, fearing that it would detract from prime time tape-delayed coverage, Lazarus is promoting live streaming and the use of the “second screen” in general. He is excited that even if coverage of these Olympic Games will not be a money maker for his network it will revolutionize the way that the biggest sporting event in the world is covered and launch NBC into the future.
Whatever the fate that awaits US athletes in London it will be interesting to see what the fusion of traditional and social media looks like on such a big scale. Within a matter of days it will be time to sit back and enjoy, or rather sign in and take part in, the first “social Olympics.”
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