5 Rings, N-Screens: Tech Adoption and the 4 Year Olympic Cycle

It's an American semiannual ritual to complain about NBC's coverage of the Olympics and search out a bootleg CBC stream. The time to stop complaining is now, because the Olympic future is here and it rocks. This has long been my wishlist for Olympic broadcasts:

  • Coverage of obscure events
  • No inspirational athlete profiles or interviews
  • No pointless commentary
  • Minimal advertising
  • Available on a mobile device
  • Caching for inconveniently-scheduled events
It's painfully noncommercial. It's not what the average viewer wants. You'd think it would never happen.

But it did. NBC Live Extra hits my wishlist down to the last point. This weekend I watched time-delayed fencing and whitewater kayaking on my Nexus, uninterrupted by anything but the natural breaks between bouts or runs. The experience was glorious.

In the past I have been an Olympic curmudgeon, avoiding the saturation bombing of gymnastics and swimming. The technical infrastructure now exists to draw in an entire population of rejectors who could not previously be bothered with broad-audience scheduling decisions. The process is currently a bit techie-oriented, and most folks are still intimidated by connecting a streaming device to their televisions. Today's landscape is a bit like Netflix streaming in 2007 before Roku, XBox, and AppleTV made it easy to watch movies on the big screen. This is not the time for the brave new world of asynchronous viewer-directed scheduling of the Olympics.

That world is coming, though. TVs have a 7-year replacement cycle. The incremental cost to add "smart TV" capability to a new device is dropping to zero. Much like we recently crossed the featurephone/smartphone 50% mark, it will soon make no sense to buy a linear-only non-streaming TV or external box. The Olympics will eventually be an app on mass-penetration smart TVs that anyone can use and understand.

  • 2008 had a few limited online tools for the techies
  • This year is a strong proof of concept for early adopters and visionaries
  • 2016 will welcome the early majority of enthusiastic pragmatists by making it easy and fun to choose their own programming
  • By 2020, even the late adopters will be sequencing their favorite events (and the innovators will be live-meshing 360 degree wireframes compiled from thousands of crowdsourced cameraphones as freelance commentators compete to provide audio overlay tracks)

How many new viewers will this approach bring in? What will it do to advertising rates? How will it change the content of the mainstream network broadcast? I can't wait to find out. In the meantime, let's all celebrate the availability of wall-to-wall curling from Sochi 2014.

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