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10 Lessons NBC Learned from Beijing
Advertising Week NY '08: While television attracted the most viewers during the Olympics, the CEO of NBC Universal gives online media medals of its own.
Posted Sep 25, 2008
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NEW YORK — Now that the torch at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing has been extinguished, it’s time for post-event highlights. The International Federation of Gymnastics (FIG, in its non-English acronym) is investigating the age of the Chinese female gymnasts; Michael Phelps is stepping out of the pool and onto center stage; and NBC Universal is reflecting on how its tri-platform distribution of Olympic coverage contributed to record-breaking viewership. In his presentation at the Advertising Week event here this week, “The Billion-Dollar Research Lab,” NBC Universal Chief Executive Officer Alan Wurtzel outlined the 10 lessons his company learned by supplementing television coverage with content delivered via the Internet and mobile phones.

With 214 million aggregate viewers, this year’s Olympics set the record as the most-viewed event in United States television history. This came as an unexpected, yet welcome, surprise: The old record of 209 million viewers was set back during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, when the average U.S. household had only 49 channels (compared to today’s 120) and no Internet streaming. Wurtzel told attendees that the involvement of the Web -- in small part due to mobile -- did not, as was feared, cannibalize television. In fact, he said, the additional alternatives enhanced television viewership.

Overall, Wurtzel said, his company learned 10 critical lessons:

Cross-platform advertisements really work: October 2008 will mark the two-year anniversary of online streaming for NBC, and Wurtzel affirmed that, even in such a short amount of time, it became clear that cross-platform advertisements really work. According to an internal survey, those who watched only television had a brand recall of 35 percent, and a message recall of 27 percent. Multiplatform viewers, however, had a brand and message recall of 46 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

"Television is still king,” he said: 82 percent of survey respondents watched the Olympics only on TV; 18 percent followed the coverage both online and on TV. When given the choice, consumers almost always default to the medium that provides the highest viewing quality, Wurtzel noted.

Makes ads in HDTV: Because of the preference for the highest viewing quality is fortified by the availability of high-definition television (HDTV), and with that in mind, Wurtzel advised attendees that all future commercials should be produced in high-definition.

Digital content complements television content: “TV isn’t better than digital, but it’s about how to combine the two,” Wurtzel said. After all, he added, “We love all our children.” Therefore, digital shouldn’t be viewed as a means to usurp or drive out TV. Instead, it complements and enhances the use of television. Those who only followed the Olympics on TV viewed an average of 12 hours of coverage, but those using TV and Internet averaged 20 hours of combined viewing, and those viewing TV, Internet, and mobile consumed an avergage of 23 hours.

Consumers expect multiplatform content: The urgency for a multiple-channel strategy is further intensified by consumers who expect multiplatform content: 68 percent of viewers report watching more TV programs since they’ve been available online; and 71 percent admit there are programs they never would have watched otherwise.

Net viewing pumps up network viewing: Because the multiplatform viewing builds on itself, not only does the Internet advertise for TV, it serves as an informational medium that allows content providers to deliver supplemental coverage, such as highlights and star/athlete biographies.

Never underestimate the importance of a great user experience: Going on the Internet, however, does have its logistical challenges, Wurtzel told the Advertising Week attendees. Bringing users to your site -- and keeping there -- requires some key site-usability factors:

  • minimize barriers (e.g., requiring external downloads);
  • ease navigation paths; and
  • use effective titling (e.g., “Must-See Moments,” which also fit with NBC's longtime network-television marketing message, "Must-See TV").

Consumers want control: In conjunction with a good experience, consumers want to be in control of the content, Wurtzel added. They want to be able to pause and rewind easily: 45 percent of respondents used NBCOlympics.com as a form of digital video recorder, while 30 percent used it for rewatching content seen on television.

The Olympics is the gold-medal standard: Not surprisingly, Wurtzel asserted that the Olympics is the most powerful advertising platform in existence: brand recall for beer, automobiles, and fast food saw a 114 percent, 140 percent, and 136 percent lift, respectively, when comparing normal primetime ads to those shown during the Olympics.

Context and relevance still matters: Wurtzel suggested that, no matter the brand recognition fostered by these advertisements, they'll see even greater success if the commercial creative is linked to the program theme or content.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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