Let the Games Begin: The Olympics and the Future of Live-Streaming

Author: David McMillin       

Sports enthusiasts don’t have to travel to PyeongChang, South Korea, to watch the 2018 Olympic Winter Games this month. Heck, they don’t have to turn on their televisions. This year, NBC unveiled plans to broadcast 1,800 hours of live-streamed coverage — an 800-hour increase from the 2014 Games.

From Feb. 9–25, interested viewers will be glued to desktops, smartphones, tablets, and connected TV devices such as Amazon Fire and Roku to watch world-class athletes compete in 15 different sports. “Our most comprehensive digital offering ever is specifically designed to satisfy modern Olympic viewers,” Rick Cordella, executive vice president and general manager of digital media for the NBC Sports Group, said when the plans were announced, “who expect to watch their programming wherever and whenever they want.”

Donny Neufuss

NBC’s digital coverage involves more than repackaging its traditional TV programming to fit smaller screens. The company has developed three digital-only programs, a digital news desk, and a short-form video series designed to appeal to social-media users. In addition to showing athletes under the bright lights of competition or on the podium, NBC’s plans include streams of practice sessions for select sports. “It’s a behind-the-scenes look — not the typical viewing experience,” Donny Neufuss, vertical market leader of eSports Americas for the Production Resource Group, told Convene. “That’s a smart move to appeal to a younger audience that wants unlimited access. If they can’t be at the experience, the next best thing is to take a camera behind the curtain and show what’s really happening.”

NBC’s audience members aren’t the only ones who expect wherever/whenever convenience. As Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube deliver live-streaming coverage of football games, shareholder conferences, concerts, and other events, more people around the world are turning their smartphones into their primary viewing devices. Video-analytics firm Ooyala reported that 57 percent of video plays originated on mobile phones in the first quarter of 2017. By 2021, Cisco predicts, nearly 17,000 hours of video content will cross global IP networks each minute, and live video will make up 13 percent of that traffic.

Conference organizers face a big question: How can they capitalize on this growing appetite for digital content?

The answer isn’t as simple as hiring a production team or investing in video equipment. Instead, Neufuss — who helped associations and corporations with video content in his previous role at Sonic Foundry — thinks that business events have to start at square one: content. “Some in the events industry might look at NBC’s massive amount of live-streamed content and think they should capture every minute of a conference to put it online,” Neufuss said. “But we have to make a distinction here. The content that NBC is broadcasting is specifically made to entertain an audience. The current content at most meetings is not always streaming-friendly. You can’t train a camera on a speaker and expect people to watch it.”

[pullquote]The younger audience watches everything online.[/pullquote]

While your events probably don’t enjoy the luxury of appealing to viewers who want to see gravity-defying snowboard tricks and last-minute, game-winning slapstick shots, Neufuss says there are opportunities to approach education in new and exciting ways. “Don’t fool yourself in believing that there won’t be other business models that can create really compelling content from traditional education,” Neufuss said. “For example, there is going to be someone in a medical school who will recognize that there is a better way to teach lessons that can connect with his or her peers behind a screen.”

That imaginary medical student isn’t alone. “The younger audience watches everything online,” Neufuss said. “That’s all they know, and traditional companies like NBC are already recognizing the need to give them the viewing experience they prefer. When they get out into the rest of the world, they’re going to expect associations and corporations to interact with them in the same way that Netflix and Twitch do.”

Read more digital-event stories from our CMP Series “Screen Time.”