Olympic Gold for Winning Team

Jul 31, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Debra Kaufman

Special to TelevisionWeek

Internet Broadcasting scored a double win by partnering with NBC to create an online component for that broadcaster’s coverage of both the 2004 Athens and the 2006 Torino Olympic Games.

According to Internet Broadcasting founder, President and CEO Reid Johnson, NBCOlympics.com for the 2006 Winter Games drew more than 13 million unique visitors and nearly 263 million page views. The NBC Olympics Web site was co-produced by the two partners, who also shared duties in Web design, print content, news reporting, advertising placement coordination and the creation of a host of interactive tools.

NBC’s experience with developing Web sites for the Olympic Games dates to the 1996 Atlanta Games. In 2000, NBC partnered with Quokka, a San Francisco-based company that shut its doors during the Internet bust.

“For 2004, NBC was looking for a stable partner to produce the Web sites for both Athens and Torino,” said Evan Silverman, Internet Broadcasting’s executive producer for NBCOlympics.com. “NBC had already worked with Internet Broadcasting for its affiliate Web sites, so it was a natural.”

The scope of NBCOlympics.com was immense, as were the complexities created by a large number of overlapping, time-sensitive events. “It was the first time that Internet Broadcasting produced a sports site of this magnitude,” said Mr. Silverman, who came to the company having worked with NBC on the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and with NBA.com.

Mr. Silverman described the challenges of covering the Olympics as twofold: real-time results and storytelling. “As the rights holder we were the only ones providing real-time results, and that was a big part of our traffic. We also had to constantly update the schedules, which are always changing. And then of course there was the news coverage of the Olympic events: 15 sports for the Winter Olympics, 84 events, and they’re at all different phases of competition.”

“There is clearly a premium on processing real-time data feeds,” he added. Internet Broadcasting prepared for the rigors of Olympics reporting by running pre-games test feeds, relying on information about the events that would be covered. Because of all the last-minute changes in scheduling, the trick was to be able to display correct information on a moment’s notice. “There might be a weather stoppage for an event,” Mr. Silverman said, “and that could wreak havoc with the data feed. A lot of technical work went into being able to handle so much data on the fly.”

The second primary focus of the Olympics-one that U.S. viewers have become accustomed to in recent years-is the storytelling about the athletes who otherwise are largely unknown to audiences. “We put a premium on personalizing the athletes on all the media possible,” Mr. Silverman said. “We created video pre-games to tell the athletes’ personal stories. This may be the first time that many viewers are being introduced to those athletes. We gathered a lot of childhood and family photos, so you’d see Sasha Cohen when she was 5. It helps to bring the games closer to the audience.”

There was a tight time frame to create the Web site for the Athens Games. The site launched March 26, 2004, and the games were in August. “We had a ridiculously short turnaround, but we got the job done,” Mr. Silverman said. After the end of the Athens Games in 2004, however, a small skeleton crew stayed on to prepare for the 2006 games. “We spent a good year prepping, which enabled us to produce great, compelling content,” he said. “We really emphasized video on the 2006 Torino site. Our audience had warmed up to using video, especially with broadband, and we served up 10.1 million video streams.” That was an increase of more than 300 percent from the Athens Games, he said, despite the fact that the Winter Olympics typically attracts a much smaller audience than the Summer Games.

Mr. Silverman said another “huge win” for Internet Broadcasting in connection with the Olympics was its nontraditional partnerships with ESPN.com, Google and About.com. With ESPN.com, NBCOlympics.com had a content-sharing and promotional partnership. ESPN.com promoted NBCOlympics.com and turned over a significant portion of its coverage to the NBC Olympics site. All the results and schedules on the ESPN.com site linked to NBCOlympics.com. “It surprised a lot of people in the industry because they view us as competitive networks,” Mr. Silverman said. “But the value of working together was greater.”

From NBC, ESPN received a two-minute daily highlight piece hosted by Bob Costas that ESPN ran on its site along with NBC’s “best of breed” content. In return, NBC received heavy promotion from ESPN, resulting in a great deal of traffic directly from the ESPN.com site.

With Google, NBCOlympics.com provided pre-games interviews with athletes and get-to-know videos. During the games, NBCOlympics.com provided 10-second previews of video. For its part, Google provided links to NBCOlympics.com’s site when users searched for key Olympics words, such as athletes’ names or specific sports. “It was a first-of-its-kind partnership with Google,” Mr. Silverman said. “We received a lot of traffic.”

The partnership with About.com, one of the top 20 Web sites, was promotional. About.com promoted NBC-Olympics.com, while NBCOlympics.com promoted About.com’s blogger.

“These partnerships with three very different kinds of online companies were a way for us to reach a different type of audience outside the traditional Olympics fan,” Mr. Silverman said.

On the ground, running the NBCOlympics.com site was “like running command central,” Mr. Silverman said. “There are multiple events going on simultaneously, and athletes are holding press conferences. It’s a 10-ring circus and you do have to pay attention to a lot of things going on at the same time.”

At the Torino Games, NBCOlympics.com had 25 people on the ground, with an office at the International Broadcast Center. “Our team ingested over 200 video feeds at the Broadcast Center,” he said. “That enabled us to monitor all the events in real time and provide multiple camera angles. It was a full production, with screen grabs, producing highlights off of those videos.”

The Internet Broadcasting staff did almost all the video editing. “There were some specific highlight pieces where we relied on NBC TV’s editing folks,” Mr. Silverman said. “But for the most part, we relied on our own staff of Internet Broadcasting/NBCOlympics.com people who were dedicated full-time.”

From Mr. Silverman’s point of view, Internet Broadcasting’s strength was evident in how staffers from the various components were able to work together.

“The tech people need to support the content folks way beyond making sure the site stays up,” he said. “It’s designing content-management tools so the content people can do their job efficiently. The sales people have to bring in the revenue and work with the content team to make sure the integrated sponsorship and the messaging we put on the site fit with our content and make sense. Then the content team has to write, edit, produce all the multimedia. The production team deals with the programming of the site.

“If any one of those parts of the company fails in its mission, it would bring down the entire project,” Mr. Silverman said. “It really is a team effort. … The Olympics shone a light on all the skills that the Internet Broadcasting staffers have. What was accomplished with NBCOlympics.com is what Internet Broadcasting does every day.”