Among the behaviors the effort might measure are whether Olympics
viewers use TVs or other devices to watch a particular event, or
how fans use two devices simultaneously and in tandem to get
information or video, said Joan FitzGerald, VP-television and cross
media at comScore. Executives will also be looking at how viewers
share the content they see across social networks.
This isn't the first time NBCU has set up an Olympics "lab." The
media company has attempted to use its Olympics broadcasts from
Beijing in 2008 and Vancouver in 2010 as data-generators on video
consumption. The London broadcasts will be different in that
smartphone and tablet penetration among consumers is decidedly more
advanced, suggested Alan Wurtzel, president-research and media
development for NBC Universal, who believes the information he
collects will be critical for any TV outlet that wants to navigate
a quickly changing terrain.
"Advertisers absolutely want to begin to reach consumers across
all these platforms, and we need, as an industry, to understand how
these consumers are behaving," he said.
The Olympics offers a rare opportunity for the media industry.
While the Super Bowl may be the most-watched event each TV season,
the Olympics is unrivaled in its ability to deliver massive
audiences over a sustained period of time -- 17 days, this go-round
-- and across multiple broadcast and cable networks. In the past,
NBC Universal has broadcast different Olympic events not only on
NBC, but also on cable-news outlets like CNBC and MSNBC, and on its
Spanish-language broadcasting unit Telemundo.
The chief objective is to observe the use of different devices
by specific consumers as they use Olympics video content from NBC
Universal across various channels, online services and apps. Google
will focus on a panel of approximately 3,000 respondents, while
ComScore will use a new 10,000-member panel that follows
individuals as they move between TV and online venues, focusing on
several hundred "Olympic enthusiasts" who plan to follow the Games
across different media venues. ComScore will use set-top boxes,
electronic meters and panelist self-reports to determine how fans
experience the Olympics.
Other measurement initiatives are set to be announced soon, said
Mr. Wurtzel. In past Olympics, NBCU has partnered with such
companies as IMMI, Keller-Fay, Arbitron and TiVo to analyze
viewers' Olympics behavior.
At Google, there's a pronounced interest in tracking a single
consumer as he or she moves from video device to video device, said
Tony Fagan, the company's research director. "We'd like to
understand how the behavior interacts across the so-called 'four
screens': TV, PC, mobile phones and tablets," he said.
No one involved in the project believes the Olympics research
will provide a broad sketch of current use by an average viewer.
For one thing, not every Olympics viewer -- or every U.S. couch
potato, for that matter -- has access to, or can afford, multiple
devices and alternate screens. Instead, the project "helps a little
more in future planning than in measuring the static state today,"
said ComScore's Ms. FitzGerald. "As a content provider, you want to
say, 'Well, maybe I should make more content available' or 'Maybe I
shouldn't make it available.'"
While the emphasis may be on the future, Mr. Wurtzel's efforts
at each Olympiad do shine a light on which emerging audiences of
the present are looming larger on the TV networks' radar. As the
traditional TV audience continues to migrate to other sources of
video, the networks are seeing their traditional program ratings
winnowed. So pressing is the situation that some smaller outlets,
including the CW and Time Warner 's TBS,
have pushed advertisers to consider the active digital audiences
for such properties as "Gossip Girl" or "Conan."
"It's almost like the old metrics don't apply anymore," said Mr.
Wurtzel. "If you want to see the future, you have to invent
His project may also get scrutiny from Comcast Corp.,
NBCU's new controlling parent. The London Olympics broadcast will
be the first under the aegis of the Philadelphia-based cable
distributor and new NBCU CEO Steve Burke. Comcast recently agreed
to a pact valued at $4.3 billion that will keep the Olympics
broadcasts at NBC Universal through 2020. In past talks with
investors, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts has vowed to make the Olympics