Prime Time is Real Time, Unless You are NBC

The London Olympics are the talk of the sports world, if not the entire world. A glance at trending topics according to shows Olympic-related hashtags are prevalent around the globe. Social media and mobile technology combine to make the 2012 Summer Olympics a new consumption experience as we can follow events in real time. Unfortunately, we cannot watch some of them in real time. In the U.S., marquee events are saved by NBC for broadcast in prime time. If you do not want to know the outcome of a medal race in swimming or gymnastics competition, stay off social media during the day. Also, it may be a good idea to avoid watching NBC promos for the Today Show as they could leak the outcome of the event you are about to watch.

We have become accustomed to on-demand access to information and entertainment. NBC seems to be stuck in the TV-dominated media generation, building its broadcasts around prime time hours. Although it should be noted that there is quite a bit of live event programming broadcast each day on NBC-owned channels, airing prime time events that have already occurred just does not fit today’s media culture. However, there is a good explanation for NBC’s approach to broadcasting major events on a delayed basis in prime time: We are not the customer, so it does not matter what we want.

The customers that NBC must satisfy are its advertisers and by extension, Olympic sponsors. Corporate partners want to achieve the greatest reach possible via TV. The time frame in which that is most likely to happen is prime time. The largest number of eyeballs will be watching during that time regardless of whether events or live or recorded. The Olympics are essentially a two-week mini-series for NBC. Its aim is to maximize viewership of the mini-series. Given the realities of the 9-5 American work life, prime time is when the most people will be watching… even if they are watching what amounts to a re-run.

Let the Games (and Stories) Begin

In a few hours, the 2012 London Olympics will officially begin. For the next 17 days, the world’s top athletes will take to a global stage. Intense competition and drama make the Olympics must-see TV regardless of how many time zones you are away from the action. And, buzz about the Olympics has migrated to social media, creating real time discussion of the Games. But, the most enduring aspect of Olympic competition is the stories of the athletes. Event broadcasts are complemented with profiles of the personalities, going beyond the uniformed competitors to give us glimpses of the people participating in the games.

Stories define athletes perhaps even more than their performances. Their Olympic moments are influential in shaping their personal brand stories. I will never forget speed skater Dan Jansen’s valiant performance at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Jansen competed through the grief of his sister dying and experienced disappointment when he fell during a race. He experienced more disappointment at the 1992 Games before finally winning a gold medal at the 1994 Olympics. Frankly, I could not recall Jansen’s medal count (he only one a single medal in three Olympics). It does not matter – his story eclipses his performances.

Sports marketing expert Jonathan Norman says that an Olympian’s “back story” plays a major role in determining his or her suitability as a product endorser. Brands are comprised of back stories, too, so the more that an athlete’s story resonates with a brand’s values, the more effective the athlete can be as a brand ambassador. Note that while being a gold medalist helps an athlete’s marketability as an endorser, it is not a prerequisite for being a valuable brand asset.

I am eager for the London Olympic Games to begin, not only to watch elite athletes compete for medals but to learn more about the stories of the competitors regardless of whether they medal. A small number of athletes will win gold medals, and an even smaller group of athletes will win marketing gold as their stories attract companies that desire to associate their brands with them. Enjoy the Games!