NBC’s coverage of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London has been something close to an unmitigated disaster. As someone who is not particularly keen on the Games themselves, I’ve found my entertainment in the social media wars that have erupted between the public and the broadcast network.

My latest piece for the Toronto chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators addresses what NBC has failed to learn from this debacle, namely that the audience is no longer a mass of passive consumers that will accept anything you offer them. Audiences now have the power to talk back, primarily through social media, and want to have a voice in shaping the media through which they consume content. Refusing to engage the audience, which could lead to greater innovations and a richer experience for consumers, will only develop an organization’s reputation as being arrogant and aloof.

There is a difference between consumption and satisfaction, and while NBC has enjoyed great success with regard to television ratings, audiences are still angry and are not getting the Olympic experience they want. If NBC wants to keep their audience, they would do well to open their airs to an audience that does indeed want the network and its product, just not in the way that NBC wants to force-feed it to them.

Below is an excerpt from the piece, which can be read in its entirety here.

In the matter that most concerns a broadcast network NBC has not suffered, as television ratings have been record-breaking. Where NBC has failed miserably is with regard to audience engagement and satisfaction. Just because people are watching does not mean that they are satisfied, especially as there are few alternatives for viewing the Games for much of the American audience. NBC has failed to understand that their audience is no longer strictly an audience, passively digesting information fed to them and unable to respond.

Viewers are now, as Jay Rosen calls them, “the people formerly known as the audience.”[2] It’s not that they don’t wish to watch television, but now that they have been empowered to speak through social media, they want a voice in shaping that medium. The people formerly known as the audience have a greater amount of choice than ever when it comes to consuming and creating content and will not sit back and consume content that does not speak to their desired experience.

The audience is now a different animal, engaged and active and eager to let you know what they think. You will not be able to censor them, as they have more channels than ever by which to communicate their grievances. If you refuse to engage, they will make this fact public as well, which will in turn only damage your reputation.

Leave a comment


  1. Sean Breslin

     /  August 7, 2012

    It’s good that people are voicing their displeasure, but they’re still watching. And as long as they keep watching, NBC holds all the cards. The only way they could have really sent a message to NBC was by not watching, which would have lost NBC money. Therefore, NBC wins this battle, even if billions tweet about it negatively.

    • At the moment, I must admit that NBC is winning out with their record-breaking ratings and this is likely what concerns the network most, in addition to advertising revenues. This, I hope, won’t be sustainable for them as audiences to find alternative ways to view the Games and to watch television content in general.

      They may have the audience for now, but sticking to this old model that force-feeds content to their audience as a one-way street probably won’t work for long. The Olympics are special, after all, and I’m pretty sure that NBC doesn’t enjoy success doing things this way the rest of the year.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. dgtlj

     /  August 8, 2012

    Of course the audience is watching. There’s simply no other way (for now) to watch this spectacle that only happens every four years. Not watching is not only a slap in the face to the network but to the athletes as well and no one wants to do that.

    NBC will know the damage this has done to their brand when the Olympics are held in Rio and the BBC offers U.S. consumers a package to watch every sport live!


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