NBCU Wins The Olympics Through 2020 And That’s Not Bad For Real-Time Fans

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts at the IOC

After years of railing against NBC (NSDQ: CMCSA) Sports for its real-time failures, my first instinct when the International Olympics Committee picked NBCUniversal to host the 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020 Olympic Games was it could drive online fans crazy. The hefty $4.38 billion price tag, following a $200 million loss for the Vancouver Games and an expected loss for London in 2012, increases the need for Comcast and NBCUniversal to squeeze every last cent out of the opportunity.


In the Jeff Zucker-Dick Ebersol years, that meant pushing viewers to prime time by blocking real-time access online to marquee events. What will it mean for the Steve Burke-Mark Lazarus era?

Turns out NBC’s coast-to-coast live stream of the French Open semi-final match Friday was a good omen for Olympics fans. Lazarus, who succeeded Dick Ebersol as head of the NBC Sports Group, promised in the announcement conference call Tuesday that every event will be live on at least one platform.

The winning bid gives NBCU rights on every platform known today as well as to be conceived over the life of the agreement, Lazarus said. That includes mobile, broadband, tablet and anything that may come up between now and 2020. “It allows us to bring the Games to more people across more platforms than any other property is doing now,” he added.

For its part, the IOC stressed “maximising exposure across all available media platforms” as part of the criteria for choosing a winning bid. That theme carried through in the statement by Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, who led the NBCU delegation that included Burke, the CEO of NBCUniversal, and Lazarus: “The vision for our new Comcast-NBCUniversal was to create new platforms and technologies to distribute the very best content. Every two years the Olympic Games provides iconic content for us to deliver on all platforms.”

It’s not a total win for online fans; Lazarus isn’t promising the full live feeds provided in some other countries. But it suggests an understanding—finally—that withholding access in a real-time world is a pretense that sucks energy out of the Olympics. TV, especially prime time, is still the showcase, as it should be, and nothing we see on a computer screen, a tablet or smartphone changes that. If anything, watching on multiple platforms will keep people engaged throughout the Games. Depending on how NBCU handles it, the frustrations of knowing others could watch something live when it was blacked out here should give way to a sense of being connected—and, if done right, an interest in watching on the big screen.

Lazarus showed this understanding in his comments following the announcement, citing the “immense” amount of learning by the NBC Olympic team, carefully including Gary Zenkel, the president of NBC Olympics and a veteran of the Ebersol years, as technology improved: “We have a smart plan to let the superfan watch events live and not detract from prime time when we are in host cities where the time zone makes it difficult.” In a separate answer, he said NBCU would still work on prime-time packages that would focus on the shared experience of families and did not think streaming would affect that.

GE-owned NBCU spread the Olympics across its assets but the combined Comcast-NBCU has a much bigger playing field. NBC Sports now includes Versus, The Golf Channel and 11 regional sports nets. “It’s an unprecedented ability to market and to deliver,” Roberts said during the call.

The IOC auction allowed bids for four Games or two. Roberts said the longer-term deal offered better economics for NBCU. ESPN (NYSE: DIS), which had promised a fresh approach with live broadband access, with parent Disney, and Fox each bid for two-game packages. NBCU’s offer ensured the IOC 10 years of financial stability, a key to its win.


NBC Sports Gets Real (Time); Streams French Open Live Coast To Coast

Roof Garden at Wimbledon Broadcast Centre

Two years ago I ranted here about the need for NBC (NSDQ: CMCSA) Sports to get a grip or lose its grip on Wimbledon after it time shifted streams for a match it wouldn’t televise live. As I type, though, NBC Universal is live streaming the French Open men’s semis in freaking real time.

I don’t know if this reflects the Comcast era or a generally more mature approach to streaming live sports in a broadband-Twitter world but it’s welcome either way.

NBC Sports is streaming Rafael Nadal v. Andy Murray to be followed by what could be an epic match between Novak Djokovic, whose 41-match streak is at stake, and Roger Federer.

I won’t be able to watch most of it but at least I know what I do see is being shown at the same time coast-to-coast instead of being offered up like a slo-mo version of a stadium wave.

Both finals will be streamed live, too.

Update: Oh, the irony. NBC still time shifted the TV broadcast so the only time I could catch it live on the big screen, it had yet to start on the West Coast. In its place: the Today show. Next request for NBC—real time on TV, too.

Warning: We May Need To Move On From The Android vs. iOS Debate Soon

$100 Million iPhone Apps

New research released at Wednesday’s paidContent Mobile from the app analytics company Flurry spells out the force of apps in the mobile world today pretty clearly: there are 500 million of them and counting—a number that will only continue to grow as Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Android devices continue to add users, and platforms from the likes of Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) and HP (NYSE: HPQ) continue to try to compete on the winners’ terms, rather than try marching to a beat of a different, mobile web, drum.

Despite the fact that Android is adding more devices daily than Apple—400,000 versus 375,000—Apple still has a larger installed base, and is still the winning platform when it comes to developers and what they are choosing, particularly if you combine iPhone, iPod and iPad development:

But Flurry’s data also seems to indicate that the tides are changing.

Significantly, Android is giving iOS a run for its money in terms of user engagement, which has long been held as one of most attractive reasons for why developers flock to the iOS platform.

Apple still has longer user engagement for some app categories like productivity, books, games and social networking. But Android is winning in other categories: entertainment, lifestyle, sports and finance. The two, in fact, nearly mirror each other in terms of engagement numbers, in the following table, which measures minutes of engagement on different categories of apps between iPhone and Android devices:

It’s not too surprising, then, that Flurry’s numbers reveal another trend that could prefigure a mobile conversation that doesn’t immediately fall into “Apple vs. Android” camps. It looks like more and more developers are aiming for multi-platform apps. The number of these might be smaller, but they are growing at nearly double the rate of Android-only apps, and nearly three times as fast as iOS-only apps.

Given the cost of developing apps for multiple platforms, could this be another opportunity for the mobile web? Watch this space.


@ pcMobile: MLBAM’s Bowman On Paid Vs. Ad Support – You Need Both

Bob Bowman, CEO, MLBAM

There’s a false dichotomy that makes its way into conversations about media strategy about whether it’s best to have a paid content strategy or one that rests on advertising support. In a conversation with paidContent editor Staci D. Kramer at the kick off of pC Mobile 2011 conference, Major League Baseball Advanced Media CEO Bob Bowman says they’re not mutually exclusive.

“Everybody would like to have a paid content strategy and free one,” he said. “You need one to drive awareness, ad revenue and the other drive scale and to make more money. You’re now passed $500 million in revenue. “That’s what they say.”

IPO unlikely: The topic of IPO’s is also becoming more of a popular option for media companies trying to grow their businesses over the past year. That topic was floated years ago for MLBAM and at this point, it’s an unlikely route. “An IPO is up to the commissioner and I think the answer is no,” Bowman said. “We’re focused on becoming a good company, not a good stock. It’s not our decision. I guess there’s a reason to go public: to pay off owners or to be able to add capital to invest in the business. We have plenty of investment in our business.”

Competition: Although there’s a lot of places fans can go for baseball news and updates, there are other things vying for fans attention and it’s not just other sports sites. “We have bokoo buckets of competition and we’d think it would be great if they all stand down,” Bowman said, grinning. “It’s not just sports. We have eight minutes in the morning and there’s a lot of other things that are making demands on people’s time. You can’t get dollars from someone unless you capture their attention. We try to get people to go to a baseball game. Not only is it TiVo (NSDQ: TIVO) proof because it’s a live event, but it makes them a better fan. And after that, you might go to one of the team’s websites. That’s how it works.”

Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) as a partner: Apple has been a great partner, but not a perfect partner, Bowman said. But it’s the panoply of systems from Android that presents the greater challenge in some ways. “Whether it’s Verizon or AT&T (NYSE: T), you’re in the same church with Apple,” he said. “But with Android, we have to build another system. Then you throw in another tablet and that’s another system to build. And it gets expensive. Being on Android is two- to three times more expensive because of the fragmentation [of devices running that system].” In terms of the 30 percent revenue cut that Apple gets, Bowman concedes that Apple has a good argument for it. “We didn’t invent the iPad and they’ve been a pretty darn good partner. I wish it were lower. But it’s hard to complain.”

Tablets = growth: The biggest growth of MLBAM’s business is, naturally enough, in tablets right now. “It not only has a much wider audience than it did a year ago, but it’s become the object of choice for people who would buy the kind of rich content we have.”

Live video ad inserts launching: MLBAM makes more money from subscriptions than advertising, but that’s shifting a bit. (Bowman wouldn’t provide specific on the growth rates there, beyond saying it’s “substantial” and in the double digits. As a result, MLBAM recently chose Auditude to build a rich media ad serving platform for inserting live ads. “That system will be rolling out this month, much to our fans delight,” Bowman said. “Baseball has natural breaks, so it shouldn’t be too painful. The reason we’re doing this from scratch is due to the fact that no one does live video ad insertion. And it makes sense to build it to our needs.”


paidContent Mobile, May 18: MLB, TWC, NHL, Turner, Sony Music

Pcmobile Portable

We’re in the final stages of prep for Wednesday’s paidContent Mobile: Platform Power with a lineup that’s getting even better. The NHL’s Perry Cooper joins us in the midst of the Stanley Cup playoffs with an update on how mobile and portable are changing the game. Cooper, Marc Sokol from NHL partner NeuLion, and BBC Worldwide’s Daniel Heaf will look at the mobile video picture. On the mobile music side, Sony (NYSE: SNE) Music’s Michael Paull, former ClearChannel (OTCBB: CCMO) digital head Evan Harrison and Linchpin Digital’s Syd Schwartz will focus on whether the recent developments in cloud-based music are worth all the attention—and how much room Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) have left for Apple (NSDQ: AAPL).

The only way to participate in these and other sessions in real time will be in person—no live stream for this event. Register now to take part in these and and other discussions, May 18 at the Metropolitan Pavilion at 123 W 18th Street.

Register now

Register for paidContent Mobile

Our list of confirmed speakers so far:

» Michael Adamson - VP, New Products & Services, Turner Sports
» Brian Alvey - President & Founder, Crowd Fusion
» Anna Bager - General Manager, IAB Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence
» Bob Bowman - President & CEO, Major League Baseball Advanced Media LP
» Kristi Crum - Director, Consumer Solutions, Verizon Wireless
» Soraya Darabi - Co-Founder, Foodspotting
» Walt Doyle - CEO, Where, Inc.
» Peter Farago - VP, Marketing, Flurry
» Chrystia Freeland - Editor, Thomson Reuters (NYSE: TRI) Digital
» Evan Harrison - Former President of Digital & EVP, Clear Channel Radio
» Fran Hauser - President of Digital, Style & Entertainment and Lifestyle Group, Time (NYSE: TWX) Inc.
» Daniel Heaf - Digital Director, BBC Worldwide
» Mark Johnson - CEO, Zite
» Ben Jones - Vice President, Mobile, Zynga
» Michael Kelly - President & CEO, The Weather Channel Companies
» Sara Öhrvall - Director of Global Research & Development, Bonnier
» Michael D. Paull - EVP, Global Digital Business, Sony Music Entertainment
» Shiven Ramji - Vice President, Mobile Media and Advertiser Products, The Nielsen Company
» Colleen Fahey Rush - EVP & Chief Research Officer, MTV Networks
» Syd Schwartz - Founder, Linchpin Digital
» Marc Sokol - SVP, Marketing & Business Development, NeuLion
» Andrew Stalbow - SVP, Fox Digital Entertainment
» Are Traasdahl - President & Founder, Tapad
» John Trimble - Chief Revenue Officer, Pandora Media
» Peter Vesterbacka - Mighty Eagle, Rovio
» Brenda Walker - Managing Publisher & VP, Marketing, The Zumobi Network
» Albert Wenger - Partner, Union Square Ventures

If you’re interested in sponsoring paidContent Mobile: Platform Power, contact our ad department at advertising AT contentnext.com.

On the Web, Bin Laden News Is Big–But Not as Big as Soccer

No debate that Osama bin Laden’s death is one of the biggest news stories in years.

Except on the Web, where all of our tweeting and reading and live-streaming about it isn’t generating nearly as much traffic as other big events of the last decade.

Here’s a look at the last day of Akamai’s “Net Usage Index For News,” which is pretty much what it sounds like: It tracks interest via page views. Note the spike last night:

Akamai says traffic peaked around midnight, at 4.1 million page views per minute, which sounds like a lot. But it’s not that much–it’s not enough to crack Akamai’s top 10 list, or even its top 14 (the Internet infrastructure company has been tracking this stuff since 2005).

If you want to really make waves on the Internet, it turns out, your best bet is to involve soccer, as four of the top five biggest Web news events did. Sports in general is a good bet–it accounts for seven of the top 14:

The obvious asterisk here is that the bin Laden news broke late on a Sunday night, when a good chunk of the U.S. was headed to bed and most Europeans were presumably fast asleep.

Had this popped on a weekeday, during daylight hours, it’s reasonable to think this would have been much, much bigger. Maybe not soccer big, though.

Magazine Publishers Scramble To Streamline Their App Production

Magazine Apps

Magazine publishers are not only trying to pack more features and content into their apps—they’re also trying to design for an ever-growing variety of devices and formats. The result is wreaking havoc with traditional print production schedules and, in some cases, budgets. And, then there’s the fear that even after all that blood-sweat, advertisers and readers will see the magazine apps as irrelevant.

One executive at a major publisher told me: “We shouldn’t be doing magazine apps. It’s a different format entirely from a print publication. We should be spending the resources to come up with special extensions of the brand.” The source added: “Consider the fact that iTunes doesn’t even have a dedicated ‘magazine section,’ so we’re effectively competing with Angry Birds and Flipboard at the same time.”

Yet despite the hurdles, major publishers are, of course, building apps, and are scrambling to streamline production and technology to make that process easier and cheaper. To get more insight into ways that big publishers are dealing with the new deadlines and formats, I spoke with executives at Time (NYSE: TWX) Inc.‘s Sports Illustrated, Hearst Magazines’ Popular Mechanics and Condé Nast.

Sports Illustrated: On top of developing apps for each of Sports Illustrated’s weekly editions, the Sports Illustrated Group has done about 20 additional apps this year and two books with “enhanced” for iPad editions. Yet the SI Group hasn’t added much in the way of personnel to handle the additional workload—just two new art department staffers, one for tablets and one for print. Executives say rather than adding more people, the key is getting the production routine down.

The major change was scheduling. For a lot of magazines, the work on the iPad version happens when the print version is completed. “For years at SI, we worked a four-day schedule, long days on weekends,” said Bob Kannell, director of operations for the sports and news group at Time Inc. “We’ve had to move the schedule around and so now we have fewer staffers in on, say, a Thursday.”

It has also tried to economize by not producing apps for every different device and screen standard. It is betting on two standards in particular—the iPad, which has a screen with a 4:3 aspect ratio, and the Galaxy, which is 16:9 aspect ratio—and believes that apps produced for those two formats can be scaled to work with other devices. “Designing for 16:9 and 4:3 will save art departments in the long run. If we have to custom tailor each device it would kill us because there are literally more devices than days of the week,” says Chris Hercik, creative director for SI Group.

Popular Mechanics: After its second iPad issue hit the iTunes store in January, Popular Mechanics, a magazine dedicated to figuring out how stuff works, did an analysis of its workflow. Jim Meigs, the magazine’s editor, discovered much to his chagrin that it took an average of five weeks to make a monthly app. He has since whittled that down to under four weeks, matching it with the magazine’s close.

Unlike Sports Illustrated, which uses WoodWing to help create its apps, or Condé Nast, which relies on Adobe’s software, Popular Mechanics does it all in-house. One of the reasons for that is PM articles require as much crafting of blueprints as they do text and images, so Meigs has expanded the number of people in the art department and brought on a “Digital Asset Editor”—a non-print techie who makes sure all the pictures, diagrams and sound files are properly formatted. Also, the same team produces a piece in both its print and digital iterations.

Meigs says it is time to get more adventurous with PM’s apps. The May issue, for example, will contain an article/video game that will illustrate the physics behind landing a spacecraft properly. PM iPad users will be able to design a spacecraft within the app, choose the kind of fuel, and decide whether to use parachutes and retrorockets. They will then attempt to steer the craft to a soft landing—if they fail, they crash. Meigs concedes that the time and cost of creating the videogame feature is disproportionate to what the business model can support over the long term. “We’re not going to do something like this every month, but these are the early days and you have to break ground,” he says, adding: “If we have 10 great items like the videogame feature, we can package and sell it separately as a long-tail item.”

Condé Nast: Along with Time Inc., Condé Nast was preparing for the iPad months in advance. It had been working with Adobe (NSDQ: ADBE) on a Flash-based system. But just before Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) debuted the device last year, Apple said that it wouldn’t support Flash. After a quick return to the drawing board, Condé Nast launched Wired in May. The app sold 24,000 downloads of the $4.99 app within 24 hours. Condé Nast, of course, has developed apps for its other titles too. In all, it has had 700,000 digital editions downloaded and approximately 7 million across 22 apps.

Rick Levine, Condé Nast’s VP for Editorial Operations, and Scott Dadich, VP of digital magazine development, have been working on a set of best practices for the company to follow in producing apps. For the most part, editors and their staffs have to take the time to understand how to work on the Adobe platform and get used to imagining different iterations for a particular piece. “The process is what we expected – a bit bumpy at first, but as the editorial and design teams have more digital editions under their belt the process is getting easier,” says Condé Nast editorial director Tom Wallace. Each magazine has its own culture and workflow so there isn’t any one single answer for streamlining the process, he adds. The company is working on better sharing options and enhanced e-commerce tools within the apps.

Some users of Condé Nast’s apps have complained about painfully long downloading times. Wallace says that to make that process more tolerable, the apps will have progressive downloading so that readers will be able to begin reading an issue while the content is being transferred, with priority given to items on the cover.