Live-Streaming the Olympics: What Was Missing in Rio?

Olympics official holding up hand to ban live mobile streaming

Flat—that’s the word that comes to mind when I reflect on my Summer Olympics viewing experience, and I’ve heard the same from friends and colleagues. But why? What was so different this time around? Or maybe a better question is, What wasn’t different enough?

Personal, impromptu video apps such as Periscope have changed expectations of the way we watch video, and the Rio games were the first massive-scale, global entertainment event since those apps hit the big time. But major broadcasters (such as NBC, which has paid $12 billion for Olympics broadcasting rights through 2032) are slow to recognize the trend—leading to missed opportunities.

Although live streaming of traditional broadcast content was embraced, the popularity of live streaming from mobile devices went untapped. That may have been a mistake, but it wasn’t an accident.

In the lead-up to the Olympics, broadcasters and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) knew athletes and fans would want to share their experiences and behind-the-scenes stories with their friends and fans around the world, in real time—and those powerful entities decided to prohibit that. The IOC noted the following in its Social and Digital Media Guidelines

“Only the persons who are accredited as media may act as journalists, reporters or in any other media capacity while they are at the Games.” 

“Broadcasting images via live-streaming applications (e.g. Periscope, Meerkat) is prohibited inside Olympic venues.” 

Those words represent a significant missed opportunity. Here are my thoughts on what made the Olympics viewing experience fall flat: 

  • The old-guard approach of huge time delays from live to prime-time TV broadcast clashes with live-streaming availability, making the TV broadcasts feel stale.
  • The prohibition on off-the-cuff live-streamed content from athletes and fans using mobile apps limited the potential of the official live-streamed content.
  • The reliance on highly produced, reporter-led conversations no longer flies.

Rather than fighting the tides of change—and delivering a lackluster TV viewing experience—the powers that be should have ridden the wave. For instance, the IOC might have considered offering free downloads of a custom Rio Summer Olympics streaming app to those in Rio, then made that content available for use in TV broadcasts, hosted the resulting videos on its own site and partner broadcasters’ sites, and piped it to companion second-screen apps. With such an approach, everyone would win.

Organizations like the IOC would see three big benefits by embracing the live-streaming-video movement and giving voice to athletes and fans:

  • Attract more viewers to their sites by curating the best streams and stories on highlight pages
  • Block truly objectionable content while allowing for the authentic, in-the-moment feeling of mobile live streaming
  • Monetize the whole experience with on-site or in-stream advertising and syndication

TV viewership was down and streaming video viewership was way up compared to previous Olympic Games, but overall consumption still seems to be less than in years past. Maybe between now and the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, off-the-cuff live mobile streaming won’t seem so scary to the big players.

Related posts:

Live Mobile Streaming: Six Tips for Success

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