I don't think anyone on the planet would dispute that the Olympics are a huge event attracting many people from a number of different walks of life and for a variety of reasons. In a nutshell, the Olympics as an event is "big business". This is especially true with respect to media coverage. Every major news outlet on the globe converges on the host city to cover the biggest sporting spectacle in the world.
While "traditional" media outlets continue to carry the lion's share of audience coverage in the form of television and print media, we are seeing a larger share of Olympic coverage being carried on the internet and in various different forms. A lot of this has to do with providing the public with choice on how they consume the content. The internet is different than other media channels as it provides a great deal of flexibility for people to choose what content they wish to consume and how they will consume it. The immediacy of this choice is driving change in how people are watching the Beijing Olympics in particular.
Unlike traditional print media or television coverage, the user is able to view or read coverage of the Olympics with a few clicks of a mouse. While this in itself is not new, I think it's fair to say we're seeing a lot more people taking the internet more seriously with respect to being a premiere choice for keeping up to speed on the Olympics.
Take, for example, Canada and the United States. Television coverage of the Olympics in these countries is provided by the CBC (in Canada) and by NBC (in the U.S.). Both have exclusive broadcasting rights for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and they are providing a great deal of coverage on the internet in addition to their usual television broadcasting schedule. That, it seems, was a good bet because early results are showing incredible growth for the internet as a core media channel for these two broadcasting companies for the Olympics. There is a great article by William Houston on Canada's The Globe and Mail newspaper's website describing the increased traffic. Basically, the CBC in Canada has been averaging around double the amount of traffic on their site compared to the same time last year and NBC in the U.S. has enjoyed much more traffic on it's site in four days of Olympic coverage than the entire amount of internet traffic for the Athens Olympics.
So why is this? Well, the prevalence of the internet around the world continues to grow, therefore exposing a larger global population to the online coverage. Also, the element of choice is a truly powerful one. NBC, for example, is streaming live video of all events from the Olympics to anyone in the U.S. (restricted due to Olympic licensing issues) who wants to watch it through Microsoft's new Silverlight technology. They have built their streaming video capabilities to include other great features such as Picture-in-Picture and additional content (such as archived footage and Olympian bio's) available at a click of a mouse. The CBC is providing streaming video of their broadcast online via Flash and providing access to similar non-live content as NBC.
The true message through all of this, however, is fairly easy to see. The web has become a core platform for driving audiences to content and the barrier of entry for this platform (i.e.: availability of the internet has reached critical mass and continues to grow) is crumbling. The real challenge, however, will be to provide audiences with a compelling reason to want to go to their web properties ahead of other, more traditional media channels. As the NBC Olympics web portal demonstrates, a rich interface allowing users a choice in how they consume content is a sure way to drive your brand and message to a large and continually growing audience.
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