By Elizabeth Jensen
Special to TelevisionWeek
In Canada, Olympic Games coverage replays extensively on video-on-demand, but in the United States, Olympics viewers have been funneled almost exclusively to NBC’s broadcast and basic cable channels, as well as to some digital cable coverage in high definition. For the 2006 Winter Games from Torino, Italy, NBC Universal crafted its most extensive free VOD Olympics package yet, with promotional pieces leading up to the February games and a limited number of highlights while the games were taking place.
It was the first time that the Winter Olympics had any kind of U.S. VOD platform, and came on the heels of the 2004 Athens Summer Games marketing plan, which included a small VOD promotional window.
For the 2004 Summer Games, five pre-Olympics preview segments were produced. Based on positive feedback from cable affiliates, NBC Universal increased the number of preview segments, each of which ran five to eight minutes, to a total of 21 for the 2006 Winter Games, said Erin Breen, senior director of marketing for NBC Universal Cable. The preview content, which included a look at some of the highlights of the previous Winter Games, in Salt Lake City, started airing Jan. 3, 2006.
During the games themselves, which aired Feb. 10-25, NBC offered a daily 10-minute highlights package on free VOD. In addition, 10 one-hour figure skating recaps that contained content exclusive to on-demand were available, said Ms. Breen. The Olympics VOD content remained available through March 3.
NBC Universal crafted the package to help cable affiliates lure more viewers to digital service and VOD, as well as to encourage them to promote the Olympics coverage on the broadcast and cable channels through cross-channel spots, said Ms. Breen. The goal, she said, was to have a package that was “turnkey and easy to use.”
To garner affiliate participation, NBC Universal sent three e-mails and three direct mailings, bolstered by trade advertising. An affiliate microsite was created containing guidelines and everything else a system needed to participate in the free on-demand promotion: ad slicks, bill stuffers, postcards, images, banner ads and cross-channel and radio spots. All the material was customizable and spots were taggable. A prize was offered for affiliate compliance.
Nine of the largest multiple system operators participated in the NBC Universal campaign: Comcast, Time Warner, Charter, Cox, Insight, Cablevision, Adelphia, MediaCom and Bresnan. Other participating MSOs were RCN, Buckeye, Armstrong and Knology.
The goal for 2006 was to get more than 100 cable systems to participate in NBC’s VOD marketing campaign, exceeding the 2004 participation level, Ms. Breen said. The plan succeeded, with more than 167 affiliates taking part in some way and 150 affiliates committing to run a minimum of 350 cross-channel spots promoting NBC’s broadcast and basic cable coverage of the Games. NBCU valued the cross-channel promotions at more than $25 million.
Viewer use also improved over 2004. The pre-games content for the Winter Games performed 15 percent better than the Athens pre-games segments. In 2006, viewers returned to watch segments more than once, with content ordered an average of 2.6 times. Some 87 percent of set-top box orders for the Olympics on Demand content were from repeat users.
NBCU will include a VOD component in its 2008 Summer Games plan for Beijing.