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Olympic Advertising

Olympic Torch It was a privilege to be able to be at the opening ceremony In Atlanta (1996), Nagano (1998), and Sydney (2000). (Lots of pictures in the travel section in the patrickWeb photo gallery). The ceremonies get more extravagant each year and you have to wonder how they are going to top it the following year. This year in Vancouver was no exception — it was a marvel.
The Atlanta Olympic Games was the beginning of e-business for IBM. A member of our team built an experimental “ticket server” to see if we could actually sell tickets to the Games online. At the time it was the largest e-commerce site on the Internet. The first commercial customer for the technology followed later that year — it was L.L. Bean.
The athletes who compete to win or lose by a small fraction of a second are truly incredible. The other thing about the Olympic Games that gets more incredible each year is the advertising. Some tell me I am in the minority on this but I think the advertising is over the top. When is enough enough?
An analysis of “the tapes” would likely show the following as the most repeated phrases of the Games.
Check mark Coming up
Check markWe’ll be right back
Check markWhen we come back
Check markAfter the break
Check markRight after this
Check markStay with us
Years ago I had the privilege of sitting next to Bob Costas at a dinner. What a nice and very sharp man — who looks much younger than his 58 years. When I heard him say “stay with us” it seemed he was inwardly saying “I know you have already seen all of these ads dozens of times and could recite them word for word and I also know that you are likely going to the kitchen or lavatory while they are playing even though consultants who “measure” viewers are telling the advertisers how many millions of people are “watching”. On the first Friday night, NBC ran 20 minutes worth of ads during the 9pm hour. In spite of this it is projected that the network will lose $250 million on the coverage it provided.
If they could have sold one out of each two minutes instead of “just” one out of three, would they have? Is there snow in Canada? The model is clearly broken. What is the solution? I do not claim to have the precise answer but I am confident it is not more minutes of advertising or more cost of goods sold to be born by consumers in order to prop up the existing outdated model. The new model will be based on the Internet and “power to the people”.
Boxee may hold the clue. The idea is to have a small box (or a chip in your DVD player or TV) that runs software from Boxee. Boxee acts like TV Guide” — it is a single interface to all forms of video including movies you make yourself, YouTube, Vudu, Netflix streaming, and all the channels of network and cable TV as we know them. The viewer decides not only what to watch but, if the content is not free, then the viewer decides how to pay for it. This is necessary because there will definitely continue to be content that is not free. NBC hauled a lot of robotic cameras and crew up to Vancouver at a cost of millions. They have to recover that somehow.
So how might you pay? One way is to watch the barrage of droning advertisements like today. Another model is to pay a fee per view. Instead of watching three hours of Olympic Games + ads from 7 – 10 on channel X, you pay $2.99 and watch the two hours of Olympic Games from 8 – 1- on channel Y. For 99 cents you watch the 6 PM news at 6:40 and get 100% news. Another model might be that if you are willing to provide some personal preferences you get the full hour including the ads but the ads are tailored to things relevant to you based on your profile. There are many variations on the “power to the people” theme. Stay tuned.