As the sun began to set on 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, chatter emerged in debate of whether or not these games (and their subsequent coverage) lived up to the greats of Olympics past. For viewers in the United States, NBC’s multi-headed approach – including additional NBC Sports Network broadcasts, on-demand offerings, XFINITY X1 integration, live streams and a virtual-reality app – opened multiple points of entry for access; mostly reserved for those with a current major paid TV subscription. Those left solely with access to their primetime network coverage were subject to NBC’s exclusive interpretation of the Olympic Games, which has left the media giant with considerable complaints in years past.
As the canvas in which users consume content continues to evolve, and the demographics of the users themselves become more dynamic and diverse, content providers and their respective device manufacturers are faced with new challenges that require a fresh outlook on content delivery. As we learn to navigate this new terrain, here are some winners and losers from the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.
Asian Markets and Athletics
Across nations, Asian athletes and their fans demonstrated a remarkable affinity for Olympic sport. Both the host nation South Korea, as well as their Japanese counterparts, earned the most Winter Olympic medals for their nations to date. Meanwhile, Asian-Americans dominated domestic coverage in snowboarding, figure skating and speed skating. As Olympic enthusiasts shift their eyes from Pyeongchang to the Tokyo Olympics 2020, Beijing also begins its preparations for the 2022 Winter games, marking it the first city to host both summer and winter events. The combination of Olympic medal success and back-to-back-to-back games across the Pacific is a strong indicator that Asian interest for the games is set to make considerable gains and with it, a new generation of Olympic fans will be born.
Paid Subscribers (including cord-cutters)
Whether you enjoyed voice-controlled comprehensive coverage on Xfinity X1 or you slid in the side-door with your SlingTV subscription, paid subscribers enjoyed broad access to live streams and broadcast of nearly every major event, plus on-demand recaps, replays and more, thanks to NBC Sports Network’s website and app. Mobile users could easily set event reminders with push notifications to help them follow their favorite sports in depth, helping personalize the experience even amidst difficult time zone differences.
If your only viewing option for these Olympic games was OTA, you were sadly left with the light-weight version of Olympic life. As coverage continues to expand in the digital direction, the primetime broadcast struggled to encapsulate the size and scope of cultures and competition, especially as favored American athletes underperformed and cultural commentary exhibited moments of tone deafness. NBC has now secured the rights to exclusive coverage through 2032, and moving forward must consider how to balance American drama with quality programming that honors the spirit and culture of every Olympic games respectively. Perhaps if the National Broadcasting Company was run more like a public national broadcast company (like the BBC and CBC), they would struggle less in achieving these ends.
For fans of VR, the NBC Sports VR app (in partnership with Intel) left much to be desired and not for reasons particularly out of anyone’s control. As one navigates the terrain, it quickly becomes apparent that every angle is static. There are no 360 degree camera views soaring through the snowboarding big air or racing down the legendary luge track. While it should be obvious that forcing such amazing captures could hinder athletes’ ability to compete, there could have at least been some practice runs, or simply general in-depth content that allowed you to feel closer to the real lives of the athletes in Pyeongchang. The result was rather a great seat in the first 10 rows of people at a handful of events, with some cool camera angles to choose from, but ultimately met with a further sense of separation through this strange viewing room that sets you back about 5-7 virtual feet from the actual capture. Similarly, anyone not on a stand-alone set, or premium resolution mobile device was left in the visual cold. Given that the next summer games are in Tokyo, one of the world’s homes of VR, NBC and Intel should probably get boots on the ground early to make this novel addition a truly mind-bending experience.