Sochi 2014: NBCUniversal’s Billion Dollar Lab Digs Deep to Identify Fan Viewing Habits

Few media events capture the attention of Americans like the Olympic Games, drawing sports fans and non-fans alike to a litany of screens in order to watch the world’s greatest athletes compete. With an onslaught of Olympics video being consumed over a two-and-a-half-week period, the bi-annual Games present Olympics rights holder NBCUniversal with the perfect petri dish to measure and dissect Americans’ ever-changing video-consumption routines.

Now in its fourth Olympics go-round after debuting at the 2008 Beijing Games, NBCU’s Billion Dollar Lab will measure consumption of Sochi Olympics video content via TV, computer, mobile, and tablet in hopes of reaping insight into the everyday video-consuming habits of the average Joe.

“First of all, [the Olympics features] a huge amount of content across all four big platforms,” NBCUniversal President of Research and Media Development Alan Wurtzel explained at an NBC Olympics press event earlier this month. “Secondly, it is an extraordinary scale of consumer consumption.  It amplifies the way people are behaving in ways that they normally don’t do. The third thing is that it’s across 18 days. When you look at 18 days, you begin to see patterns of behavior emerge which are really, really interesting. It accelerates consumers’ behavior.  And finally, it increases what we call the measurable effect. We can begin to measure things that you can’t measure in the real world.  And we’ve learned a lot.”

Beijing 2008: In the Beginning…
Back in Beijing 2008 – when smartphones were few and far between and the concept of a tablet had not even hit the market – the Billion Dollar Lab measured consumption across three platforms: television, mobile, and computer. NBC discovered that TV was, not surprisingly, king. Viewers consumed nearly all of their Olympics video via television and, while there was a growing use of digital platforms by younger viewers, consumption on these streaming devices remained negligible.

Other key findings included the fact that 46% of study participants said they changed their daily routines in order to watch the Olympics, including one third of people deciding to delay doing their laundry (a favorite metric of Wurtzel).

Vancouver 2010: The Great White North Goes Multiplatform
On to Vancouver in 2010, where smartphones were beginning to become a part of most consumers’ everyday lives, but the world remained tablet-less.

NBCU found that consumers began to transition from WAP (wireless application protocol) browsers to mobile apps in order to consume their video content during the games. Approximately 3 billion apps had been downloaded from the iTunes store at that point, compared to more than 60 billion today.

“We also began to see a lot of simultaneous, multiplatform use,” said Wurtzel. “What we learned was that the more screens people used, the more use they had overall.  We found that mobile was becoming mainstream, although it’s just amazing that there were no tablets then.”

In Vancouver, more than half of American viewers changed their routine, with 46% delaying their laundry.

London 2012: The Multiplatform Big Bang
London is where it all changed. Not only did consumption on digital devices skyrocket – 8 million people downloaded the NBC Olympics mobile apps for streaming video and NBC’s Websites and apps received two billion page views – but traditional television viewing was higher than ever before with 217 million Americans tuning it on the tube (making it the most watched television event in history).

Despite the explosion in streaming consumption, TV remained king, accounting for 90% of all Olympic content consumed during the London Games. However, this number is somewhat misleading, as much of this TV content was being watched in conjunction with consumption on a phone, tablet, or laptop.

“What’s so important is when people say, ‘How are you doing [or] what are the ratings for the Olympics?’ You can’t just think about TV,” said Wurtzel. “Because the Olympics is now a multiplatform consumed event.”

The Lab also indicated that the more screens people had, the more time they spent on every device. TV-only viewers of the Olympics spent about four hours per day watching the Olympics. Meanwhile, TV/computer users consumed five hours of total content per day and the time they spent watching TV also increased. Viewers who consumed Olympics video on TV, computer, and a third device (mobile or tablet) averaged six hours per day. Finally, ‘platinum users’ of four devices (TV, computer, mobile, and tablet) were the hardest of the core, consuming eight hours per day.

“What’s so interesting is that the time they spent with television – what I like to think of as the mothership – also increased, which is great,” said Wurtzel. “But also, the total time they spent with the Olympics [on all devices] actually doubled.”

London also marked the rise of simultaneous viewer – a viewer that is consuming Olympic content on TV and Olympic content on at least one other device (checking non-Olympics content like email and social media does not apply here). In Vancouver, about 32% of total people consumed Olympics content on both TV and another platform. Just two years later in London, that number jumped to 54%.

“What’s it going to be in Sochi?” asks Wurtzel. “I’ll bet you a week’s pay it’s going have a six in front of it. I think at least about two-thirds of the people will be what we consider to be simultaneous viewers.”

The London Games were also, of course, the first tablet Olympics. Although tablet use has grown exponentially across the board since the summer of 2012, they still had a dramatic impact on how people consumed Olympics content. While smartphones dwarfed the number of people that had tablets, far more people were actually spending time on the tablet, even though there were fewer of them.

In addition, streaming live video finally broke into the mainstream in London, rather than just the younger demographic. In Beijing, 50% of mobile viewers were under 34 years old, with 35-49 representing 37% and 50-plus at just under 15%. Two years later in Vancouver, under-34 and 35-49 year olds users each represented 37% percent, respectively, but the 50-plus group grew to 27%. Then in London, the age barrier was broken, as each of the three demographics represented one-third of the overall mobile consumption.

“Mobile access to content is no longer just 25-year-olds who wear black and live in Williamsburg,” said Wurtzel. “It really has progressed to everybody. I use 50-plus as kind of a marker of mainstreaming. I can just promise you that that the usage of that is going to grow. But I think the proportion is going to remain very, very similar.”

It is also worth noting that 7 p.m. until midnight ET during the London Olympics, 99% of all social TV buzz was attributed to NBC’s Olympic coverage (according to a BlueFin Labs social TV analytics study).

And, not to be forgotten in the sea of metrics, 53% percent of Lab participants changed their daily routine to watch the games, including an appalling 46% delaying their laundry.

What Does it Mean for Sochi?
The Billion Dollar Research Lab will be in full swing in Sochi, and NBCU only expects each and every one of these viewing trends to continue.

“What are we looking forward to in Sochi?” asked Wurtzel. “Well, again, I think what you’re going to see is cross-platform use is going to become even more mainstream and more pervasive. Tablets, a huge role. The simultaneous viewer will increase across all platforms.  Mobile, a primary platform for consumption of it.  And finally, the shared experience of social media will create a huge amount of buzz.”

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