Looking back on Vancouver, ahead to London

Alon Marcovici insists he is not a conspiracy theorist, but even he can hardly believe how perfectly Vancouver 2010 unfolded for the Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium. A gold-medal game against the Americans, with Sid the Kid stuffing in the OT winner? It sounds scripted.

Alon Marcovici insists he is not a conspiracy theorist, but even he can hardly believe how perfectly Vancouver 2010 unfolded for the Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium. A gold-medal game against the Americans, with Sid the Kid stuffing in the OT winner? It sounds scripted.

And the numbers were everything the CTV-Rogers consortium could have hoped for and then some, with an average 16.6 million tuning in to that Feb. 28 thriller. ‘I don’t believe these numbers will be broken until there’s a new measurement system, and even then I’m not sure they’ll ever be broken,’ says Marcovici, the consortium’s VP of digital media and research.

The coverage also incorporated an unprecedented online offering, and the audience watching on their computers was also large. According to CTV, CTVOlympics.ca and RDSolympiques.ca drew a combined 12.3 million unique visitors and 215 million page views throughout the Games, quadrupling the number of views for Beijing 2008.

Canuck athletes delivered a record medal haul on home soil, so big audiences online were not surprising. How viewers consumed that coverage, however, did raise some eyebrows over at the consortium. The brass expected the vast majority of video viewers to watch short recap clips. As it turned out, 47% watched live events, and video viewers spent a whopping daily average of 54 minutes on the site.

The video player offered much of the functionality of a PVR, including the ability to ‘rewind.’ The technology is such that the streams trailed traditional TV by up to two minutes, but on the plus side the picture quality was optimally 720p.

The consortium set out to be completists, offering live streams of every event, up to 14 streams simultaneously. It begs the question that if you want to maximize your bandwidth, would it perhaps be advantageous to drop those feeds that draw the fewest eyeballs?

‘We did it because of the athletes; we didn’t do it because of the numbers,’ Marcovici explains. ‘We really felt strongly that the athletes work four years – if not longer – to get to seven seconds of their career, and every one of those seconds counts to them, to their family, to their friends and to their community. We really wanted to deliver every second live to everybody.’

When you put so many resources into a state-of-the-art website, you certainly want it to be used, but at the same time you don’t want to cannibalize your TV audience when traditional TV advertising continues to pay the bills.

‘Our hope was never to steal audience from television,’ Marcovici says. ‘Our hope was to be a great place to complement the television stations, because you had a more layered, interactive experience.’

Juggling so much content online proved a challenge in terms of the site design. An article that ran during the Games in The Globe and Mail, itself the consortium’s official newspaper, quoted a user who abandoned the website in part because she couldn’t find the video she was looking for.

‘The navigation of finding video was challenging only because there were 14 live streams at once,’ Marcovici says. ‘During the Olympics things change so much on the home page and it’s difficult to give people enough information. I think by the end of the Games we were far better and we do have ideas to get better for next time.’

And next time would be the 2012 Summer Games in London, which constitutes the back end of the consortium’s rights deal. To ready itself, the consortium has collected viewer feedback e-mails from the Winter Games and it is conducting a post-event survey to measure multiplatform consumption. It has also monitored comments about its coverage made via social media, such as on the live chats on its own sites as well as on outside sites such as Facebook.

The CTV Olympics Facebook page, which attracted more than 37,000 fans, served mostly to let people know in an informal way what was on TV and when. To Marcovici, it’s really about having a presence wherever web users habitually consume information. The consortium also posted clips to a YouTube channel (as on its own sites, the video was geo-gated) and made them available on Xbox Live and iTunes. A number of iTunes customers posted negative comments about paying to download clips that could be streamed free of charge at CTVOlympics.ca.

By design, the mobile coverage was otherwise modest, basically providing medal results, news and photos. The Olympic mobile app was downloaded 234,000 times, while 7.8 million page views were generated via mobile devices. Bell held mobile video rights, and its streams were particularly handy for those, such as Marcovici, who attended events and could check their handsets to see what was unfolding at other venues.

As the consortium will soon turn its attention to London, Marcovici says one of the main areas he wants to beef up is the broadcasters’ social-media presence. Although in the ever-evolving world of the Internet it is hard to know what the landscape will look like even two years down the road.

‘We dabbled in Facebook and Twitter,’ he says. ‘This time around it was just to be there and to drive people here and there, but we’ll see a little bit more robust promotion and robust functions next time around – assuming Facebook’s still around.’