Bring the Olympics Online

Article excerpt

Byline: Daniel Lyons

Here's how I want to watch the 2014 Winter Olympics. I want to go to a Web site, choose an event--say, men's downhill skiing--and watch the whole thing from beginning to end, on my big-screen TV or my laptop or my iPhone. I'll skip the boring parts and rewind to watch the good parts again. I'll gladly pay an a la carte price per event, or pay one big fee for a pass that lets me see every Olympic contest. I'd even pay a premium to watch them live. I want to see any event I want, whenever I want to watch it, on whatever screen I choose.

The technology exists to make this happen today. Yet nearly two decades after the debut of the World Wide Web, this remains a pipe dream. NBC, which broadcast the Vancouver Olympics in the United States, did things the same old way: rounding up a bunch of highlights and broadcasting them during prime time, with less-popular events running on MSNBC and CNBC. Yes, NBC had an Olympics Web site. But it wouldn't put video clips on the site until they had been shown during prime time. So Americans had the weird experience of learning from a news report during the day that something fantastic had just happened, and then having to wait until that night's broadcast to see it.

Bloggers griped, but NBC wouldn't budge. Its research shows that people like me, who want to watch the Olympics online, represent a tiny (albeit noisy) minority--only 7 percent of the total audience. The other, bigger concern is the one that we keep hearing from every kind of media company: the Internet just doesn't deliver any money. For whatever reason, advertisers remain willing to pay big bucks to show their commercials on prime-time TV. But on the Internet? Not so much. "Trading analog dollars for digital dimes" is the expression that media companies use to describe the shift to the Internet. …