New Media Goes to Beijing

The past few weeks have been decisive for athletes around the world, many of whom have been competing in time trials to qualify for the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing. While most eyes are on these sportsmen and women, many others’ have been fixed on something slightly less dependent on a stopwatch: the Internet.

NBC recently announced plans to use the Olympics as a “billion-dollar” research lab to understand how people around the world will use digital platforms to follow the games when they aren’t sitting in front of their televisions.

More than an opportunity for NBC, though, this social experiment will be very telling for the marketers and communications professionals who are constantly trying to understand how people supplement their traditional media consumption with new technologies, including online video, live blogs and mobile phone updates.

According to, NBC has scheduled 3,600 hours of Olympics programming on its main network, along with other affiliates, to pack eight days worth of programming into each day. The company is planning to make 2,200 hours of streaming video available on Consumers may also get video on demand via their computer and Olympics content through their mobile phones.

The network is tapping organizations that include Nielsen Media Research, Integrated Media Measurement Inc. and Quantcast Corporation to get data from their online efforts. This data will be supplemented by a daily online survey of 500 consumers, who will be asked detailed questions about how they are using various media platforms.

This is certainly an expensive experiment, and companies around the world should be grateful that NBC is footing the bill, as the insights gleaned from the research could shed more light on the best ways to reach consumers online. It’s also an effort that Presidential candidates should follow closely, as the conclusion of the Games—and, therefore, the “experiment”—will come in the critical time leading up to Election Day. Will candidates integrate the findings into their own last minute efforts to reach voters?  I’d venture to say Obama will, given his dexterity with digital platforms. One can only hope that McCain’s camp will do the same; his own online efforts have been criticized for being … well, anachronistic.

By Courtney Barnes