via allthingsd on twitter
In NBC’s Rockefeller Center headquarters, workers were hustling Friday to transform the “Saturday Night Live” sound stage into a command center for coverage of the 2012 Olympics Games.
Much of this is familiar territory for America’s No. 3 network. NBC has broadcast nearly all the summer games to the U.S. audience since the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, making it one of the network’s crucial franchises.
But in many ways, this summer’s London Olympics will be a monumental experiment for network television in the digital age.
Executives of the network, which was taken over last year by Comcast Corp., have decided to do away with the old formula of keeping big events under wraps until its prime-time evening broadcast. Instead, every Olympic event will be available live online for cable and satellite subscribers, who will be able to select events from a menu at nbcolympics.com.
At stake is the billions of dollars NBC paid for U.S. broadcast rights and hundreds of millions in advertising revenues in an audacious bet that viewers will still come to the network at prime time.
NBC has called the Olympics its “billion-dollar lab,” a chance to figure out how to sate a modern audience with the right balance of online and broadcast TV. “There are traditionalists who say, ‘This will cannibalize us,’” said NBCUniversal chief executive Steve Burke in an interview. “But I think we’re in a world that is so fragmented, you want to do everything you can.”
The strategy is as risky as a relay handoff. By presenting every Olympic event live online during the day, the network is gambling they will still draw enough viewers to its taped replays of the day’s glories during evening prime-time broadcasts, when big advertisers have bought their commercial time.