The Financial Times reports that after studying media habits related to its Olympic coverage, NBC found less social media activity linked to television broadcasts than might have been expected. In other words, it isn’t apparent that people tune into television programs because they see activity about it on social media. At stake is a lot of advertising money.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. From its early days, one of the major critiques of television was that it encouraged passivity: people generally sat on the couch in their private homes watching a screen. While they may have had conversations about TV with others (and a lot of this has moved online – just see how many sites have Game of Thrones recaps each week), television watching was a limited social activity practiced alone, with family, or close friends. Whether social media changes this fundamental posture in watching television remains to be seen.
Cultural differences and nationalistic pride are on display when watching the Olympics in different countries:
In Sweden, commentators have fun with Norway’s misfortunes. The Dutch can’t get enough of their speedskaters. Japan is so crazy about figure skating they show warmups. Canada is hockey crazy, Russia struggles to stay positive even when things look down and the U.S. salutes its stars with the national anthem as it’s time to go to bed.
There’s only one Winter Olympics. But in reality, for television viewers around the world, the Sochi games are a different experience depending on where you tune in.
Some 464 channels are broadcasting more than 42,000 hours of Sochi competition worldwide, easily outdistancing previous Olympics, according to the International Olympic Commission. Digital platforms push that number past 100,000 hours. Worldwide viewership statistics aren’t available, but the IOC says more than three-quarters of Russians have watched some coverage, two-thirds of South Koreans and 90 percent of Canadians.
Read on for some more details of presentations in six different countries.
While we make much of the idea of globalization these days, it strikes me that we are still far away from being able to watch how other countries present the Olympics. TV deals for the Olympics are locked in country by country. In the United States, NBC paid roughly $775 million for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, about 61.5% of all TV broadcast revenues for this Olympics. That means we are generally stuck with their coverage, either on TV or through their website. What if we could watch any international feed? What if all of these feeds were available online for free? We are probably far from this because there is too much money involved for TV broadcasters who still often follow national boundaries.
You could get a taste of these differences in Olympics coverage through non-TV sources, like websites or newspapers. However, that is still different in watching it in “real-time” and seeing how commentators react in the moment. Plus, it takes extra work (though maybe not much) to track down these different sources and compare.
The NBC employee who released footage of Bryant Gumbel, Katie Couric, and Elizabeth Vargas struggling to define the Internet back in 1994 has been fired. So much for (corporate) information wanting to be free.
But I also don’t quite understand what all the fuss has been about. Sure, their conversation sounds silly to us today. But this was only 16 years ago. If anything, this clip and its popularity demonstrates how quickly the Internet has become an part of everyday life. Back in 1994, the Internet was not used by the common American. My family got AOL in the next year or two, I remember a friend’s family having Prodigy around this time, but most people had no access and realistically, no need for access. Couric, Gumbel, and Vargas were like many Americans: just trying to figure out what this new technology was and how it was used.
More broadly, this released video fits with patterns of more modern people laughing at or commenting on how much better life is now compared to the past. From the vantage point of 2011, we can see the benefits of the Internet and we are bombarded with messages from companies suggesting we need even more of it (in our phones, in our treadmills, etc.). But anytime new technology is introduced, it takes time for the mass public to figure out whether it is a good change or not.