The Tipping Point for Metadata

Like everybody else, I watched the Olympics.  You gotta love the biathlon, the continued excellence of Shaun White, and Lindsey Vonn coming back from an injury to win gold in the women’s downhill skiing event.

I catch Olympic fever every two years, and Vancouver 2010 was no different.  The Olympics are a stirring reminder of everything that’s great about America: our will to win, our respect for fair play and our love of country. It’s also one of the few global television events that still reliably draws “big three”-type numbers.

NBC did a great job handling those things that big broadcast networks do well:

  • Fantastic production value
  • Creating stories about the athletes
  • Excellent on-camera talent — namely, Bob Costas

As The Wall Street Journal tells it, NBC  also did an admirable job of catching all this data as it came in, spending $250k to measure when, where and how people are viewing the content.

NBC is even releasing a daily total audience measurement index (TAMi) tallying how many people watched the Olympics on the different platforms (TV, computer, mobile, etc) that are simultaneously and variously broadcasting the events.  This is a great start to real understanding of how and when people consume content.

Still, the problem remains that (as we’ve all read) NBC will lose $250 million on these Olympics.  In fact, The L.A. Times just beat up NBC for losing money and not offering “TV Everywhere” style-access to the games.  And of course, the network continues to take broadsides from fans for delaying the broadcasts of competitions.  Part of this is a fundamental structural question: the games happen at a certain time of the day, and yet prime-time broadcast television needs to happen from 8-11 p.m.  If we’re watching the games as they happen online on our office computers, will we still tune in for the broadcast in prime time?

It’s worth noting, the Olympics do bring a special brand of patriotic magic.  Even when we know what happens, large numbers of us want to tune in to see the U.S.’s best day in winter Olympics history anyway, to the tune of 30.1 million viewers — a  number that beats “American Idol.”

NBC did admirable work in a tough spot. But imagine a truly multiplatform Olympics:

  • Ad-embedded events live-streamed by a world-class player like Microsoft’s Silverlight
  • Metadata content recommendations for favorite events
  • Seamless mobile delivery and discovery
  • “On Demand” Olympics megapass for premium viewers

Whatever the scale, data is the key to getting the most value out of content.  The more metadata you have, the more you can do with it, and the longer you can get people to stay and consume your content.  For example, let’s say I watch the next U.S. hockey game.  If NBC was employing enhanced metadata, after viewing the match, I would get recommendations for other hockey games.  The system could also point me toward equally compelling, high-intensity ice sports like speed skating.  As a result, I would probably want to watch more content for longer periods of time.  And, as for seamless mobile delivery (in good quality and formatted for the screen of course), with strong metadata I can watch content on the go and from anywhere – and, most importantly, on my schedule.  As we’ve all heard time and time again, consumers want convenience.  You end up with more eyeballs on your content, and the ads you are serving with it.

Someday — soon — we will reach a tipping point when even global events like the Olympics are truly multiplatform in a way that is both open-access and hugely profitable. I think the data NBC collected from the just-completed Olympics is a big step toward proving its value.

Way to take some bullets, NBC, on the road to the future.  With any luck, the next time the Olympics roll around, the infrastructure will exist to make up that $250 million shortfall — and put you back in the black where you belong.



About Ben Weinberger

This is a bio.