2024-05-20 13:02:33
Tape Delay by NBC Faces End Run by Online Fans tv


NBC, which owns the exclusive rights to broadcast the Olympics in the United States, spent most of Friday trying to keep it that way.

NBC’s decision to delay broadcasting the opening ceremonies by 12 hours sent people across the country to their computers to poke holes in NBC’s technological wall — by finding newsfeeds on foreign broadcasters’ Web sites and by watching clips of the ceremonies on YouTube and other sites.

In response, NBC sent frantic requests to Web sites, asking them to take down the illicit clips and restrict authorized video to host countries. As the four-hour ceremony progressed, a game of digital whack-a-mole took place. Network executives tried to regulate leaks on the Web and shut down unauthorized video, while viewers deftly traded new links on blogs and on the Twitter site, redirecting one another to coverage from, say, Germany, or a site with a grainy Spanish-language video stream.

As the first Summer Games of the broadband age commenced in China, old network habits have never seemed so archaic — or so irrelevant.

“The Olympics to me is a benchmark for how fast we’ve gone with technology,” Brad Adgate, the senior vice president for research at Horizon Media, a media buying firm in New York, said. “Thirty months ago, no one was talking about YouTube. Now, it’s a verb.”

Two years ago, during the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric, offered only two hours of live coverage on the Internet. This year, it is putting a staggering 2,200 hours online in scores of video feeds.

But NBC, which paid $894 million for the exclusive rights to the Olympic broadcast in the United States, intends to show some premier events like swimming live on television only to reach a wider audience and charge higher rates for advertising.

Although the numbers are not yet available, NBC’s tape-delayed version of the opening ceremonies will almost certainly be watched by more Americans than the live Internet streams. Steven J. Farella, the president and chief executive of the TargetCast TCM media agency in New York, said that “if the question is, ‘is this a big issue?’ the answer is, ‘not yet.’ ”

“Right now, people can go on the Internet to watch, but not enough will because it’s not the same experience,” he added. “People love TV and still like to get entertainment that way.” However, he added, by the Summer Games in 2012, “Olympic ad sales could be turned upside down.”

But as Internet users reaffirmed on Friday, some viewers are already willing to find some other source and watch what they want, when they want.

As dancers and acrobats whisked across the National Stadium in Beijing, anonymous users uploaded more than 100 video clips of the ceremony to YouTube, but the site, owned by Google, swiftly removed as many as it could. Similarly, some live video streams on Justin.tv, a popular source for international video, were also removed. According to International Olympic Committee guidelines, the television networks with the local rights to the Games are the only legal sources of video in each country.

But the media companies were almost always a step behind users who have a seemingly unlimited number of Web sites, especially when bloggers were sharing links to new sources. In Rhode Island, Aida Neary and a colleague huddled at her desk to watch a Brazilian television channel’s live coverage.

“It wasn’t the best quality,” Ms. Neary said of the video feed, “and I’m sure it will be better on TV, but to watch that flame go up at the same time as the rest of the world was a beautiful, moving thing.”

Most of the world’s other broadcasters with rights to the Olympics, including CBC in Canada, Televisa in Mexico, the BBC in Britain and NHK in Japan, broadcast the opening ceremonies live on television. “The idea of watching a 14-hour delay is repulsive,” remarked Tracy Record, a blogger in Seattle, who woke up at 5 a.m. to watch the opening ceremonies with her 12-year-old son on CBC.

Around the same time, American television viewers were treated to a taste on NBC’s “Today” show and regular programming on NBC’s cable sisters, MSNBC and CNBC. Parts of “Today” were taped hours in advance because Matt Lauer, who serves as co-host of the morning show, was due at the stadium to anchor the opening ceremonies with Bob Costas.

Gary Zenkel, the president of NBC Olympics, said in a statement: “We have a billion dollars worth of revenue at stake here, so that means we’re not public television, for better or worse.”

The International Olympic Committee is permitting networks to stream video this year because geographic blocking technology allows the companies to keep their broadband feeds within national borders. In some cases Friday, users illegally retransmitted the feeds. But in at least one case involving Germany’s ARD broadcast network, the blocking did not occur.

ARD did not direct its Olympic stream through the geographic protection provided by the European Broadcasting Union, a conglomerate of dozens of national broadcasters that acquired the rights to the Beijing Games for $443.4 million, according to a memo sent to the International Olympic Committee and obtained by The New York Times. Gina Lundby, the sports projects coordinator of Eurovision, the broadcast division of the E.B.U., wrote in the memo that the German network had been prohibited from further streaming “until this matter has been clarified and resolved.”

Lorie Johnson, an information technology worker in Little Rock, Ark., benefited from the security lapse. She watched the torch lighting from her desk at work.

“In the age of Internet (almost) anywhere, why be tied to a TV?,” Ms. Johnson wrote in an e-mail message. Television networks “no longer have the same viewer monopoly they had 30 years ago — why don’t they see that?”

Stuart Elliott, Richard Sandomir and Bill Carter contributed reporting.

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