What Viewers Want

NBC is getting flack for the choices it has made regarding its televised coverage of the London Olympics. At the heart of this issue is not just one network’s choices, but a growing tension as new media changes audience expectations. The points of argument, and how they have played out, reveal a lot about what viewers want.

What can be learned about the modern American audience from #NBCfail?

Audiences will actively check up on you.

NBC’s first mistake was cutting away from the Opening Ceremony during a tribute to the 7/7 London terrorist attack for an interview with Michael Phelps. Before social media, this would not have been such a scandal. Most of us would not have had any way to know what was being broadcast live on televisions in London. The globally-minded few who did would not have had much of a platform to spread the word. But today, the Internet means audiences can and will question what they are fed—and what they find will spread like wildfire.

A vocal minority can stir up a world of trouble.

While the blogosphere loudly demands that NBC broadcast major events as they happen, most of us would not actually be able to watch if the network aired competitions live in real-time. While major events like gymnastics and swimming played out in London, most U.S. viewers were at work. But this didn’t stop the negativity from rolling out and causing problems for NBC.

Viewers have no sympathy for business needs.

Now accustomed to abridged commercial breaks online from sites like hulu, audiences got riled up over long and frequent commercial breaks during their favorite events. NBC received no sympathy points for the $1.2 billion price tag it paid for the Olympics, or the fact that, at least at first, the network did not expect ad revenue to make ends meet.

Convenience still wins.

Despite the controversy, Olympic television viewership averaged 35.6 million viewers a day over the first five days, the highest numbers for an Olympics outside the United States since 1976. Despite the hype, it seems that most viewers still prefer to watch delayed coverage on NBC rather than seek out the wide range of online live feeds at NBC’s Olympics website.

As technology continues to evolve, viewer expectations will continue to change as well. Audience expectations continue to trend toward more options, more real-time access, and more convenience. Players in media, both new and traditional, will have to keep one ear to the ground at all times to continue to satisfy the demands of their audiences.


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