Inside the Numbers: NBC Digital’s Olympic Streaming Effort in Sochi

When it comes to high-profile sporting events, it doesn’t get much bigger than the Olympics. But what was once an event built solely around pre-packaged primetime linear telecasts is quickly becoming a cornucopia of live-streamed coverage.

It’s no surprise that NBC’s recent rights deal to keep the Olympic Games under the Peacock umbrella through 2032 included a stipulation that will give NBC exclusive rights to carry the Games on whatever technology emerges between now and then. After all, the Sochi Games in February were consumed on digital platforms more than any Winter Olympics prior – and even outpaced London 2012 in many metrics – and NBC expects this trend to skyrocket with the Rio Games in 2016 and beyond.

Just look at the numbers: 25 million people watched video on NBC’s digital platforms – up 160% over Vancouver 2010 and up 8% over London 2012. That is despite the fact that NBC’s London coverage included 3500 hours of live streaming primarily during the U.S. daytime hours, while Sochi’s 1000 hours occurred primarily between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET. In addition, the 62 million NBC digital visitors were up 29% over Vancouver and the total 10.8 million hours consumed were three times Vancouver’s total. Finally, and most importantly, NBC Digital is now a legitimate revenue generator, having totaled more than $50 million on top of NBC’s traditional TV revenue.

“The headline is that consumption is up across the board,” NBC Digital SVP and GM Rick Cordella said at a Streaming Media East keynote presentation this week in New York. “We knew it was going up, but not as far as it went. We were actually pretty shocked by some of the number that we saw. More viewers are more comfortable streaming media than ever before. People are aware it exists, they have these devices, they’re comfortable doing it, and they are consuming it in higher volume than ever before.”

Ice Hockey Leads the Way
NBC Digital also ascended to new heights when it came to individual events. On three consecutive days in February, NBC Digital set new Olympics records, destroying the previously most streamed event – 682,806 unique viewers for the U.S.-Japan women’s soccer final at the 2012 London Games. First, the U.S.’s men’s ice hockey team’s 5-2 quarterfinal win over the Czech Republic generated 798,337 on Feb. 19. The following day, the 1.16 million NBCOlympics.com and NBC Sports Live Extra unique users watched the U.S.’s gut-wrenching loss to Canada in the Women’s Ice Hockey gold medal game. And finally, on Feb. 21, NBC’s authenticated live stream of the Olympic men’s ice hockey semifinal between the United States and Canada, which Team Canada won 1-0, generated 2,12 million unique users.

“The [Feb. 19] quarterfinal absolutely blew me away and started getting me a little nervous,” said Cordella. “I felt really good from an advertising perspective…but on the flipside if that blow-out quarterfinal game, what will that Friday [semi-final] game be?”

Despite NBC’s concerns, it was able to pull off that Friday semi-final stream without much of a hiccup, peaking at 800,000 concurrent viewers, which Cordella estimates is the largest stream ever.

“We were nervous and the games starts and [the audience] just starts going up like a hockey stick – no pun intended,” said Cordella. “It is really impressive when you think about where we were just a short four years ago and where we are now.”

A Closer Look at TV Everywhere Consumption
Also key to NBC Digital’s Sochi success was its TV Everywhere initiative, which saw 4.8 million people authenticated via NBCOlympics.com and NBC Live Extra.

“TV Everywhere is getting better Olympics are catalytic moments for these types of initiatives. I think the key thing to remember is people will sign in for compelling content and the Olympics is that compelling content. And we have seen significant boost in our NHL and Kentucky Derby streaming numbers this spring and a lot of that has to do with the Sochi Olympics TV Everywhere initiative. This is improving over time and I think awareness and acceptance is growing.”

TV Remains King, But Digital Gaining
Although TV remains king – the linear telecast accounted for 72% of all viewership in Sochi – digital devices are making headway as it saw boost from 11% in London to 28% in Sochi. In the 18-24 year old demographic, that trend was even more apparent as 64% interacted with Olympics content on digital devices rather than television.

In terms of the devices used to consume all this Sochi content, 66% used PC’s, 23% used tablets, and 10% used mobile phones. Surprisingly, the users using the PC to watch Olympics content grew for Sochi, despite the ever-growing role of phones and tablets. Phone usage was about even with London, while tablet use decreased slightly.

“I think what’s happening here had to do with the time of day that we streamed, so all those big hockey games are happening at noon,” says Cordella. “And the PC is still the preferred device while you are at work.”

Meanwhile 75% of viewers utilized a Wi-Fi connection while watching Olympics video, while 25 used Mobile data – up 5% from London.

Looking Ahead to Rio
Now consider the fact that Sochi was a Winter Games, which traditionally generate far less interest than Summer Games, in a time zone nine hours later that the U.S. Eastern Time zone. The Rio Summer Games in 2016, however, will be just one hour behind EST. Add in the fact that Rio will feature a parade of established star athletes. With more than 60 live feeds coming out of Rio and more than 3500 hours of coverage planned, NBC Digital expects its Olympic rise to only continue.

“Rio will probably shadow the other numbers here.” Says Cordella. “Rio promises to be the largest digital event in history. We say that almost every Olympics, but with Rio being in the right time zone only an hour ahead of [EST] you will have a full day of streaming from when you wake up in the morning till you go to bed at night. Plus you have brand names.

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