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NBC's Digital Olympics

NBC Universal's broadcast of the Olympic Winter Games 2006 may be a media coup, but the broadcaster hopes to extend its audience beyond the TV-viewing public.

NBC'smulti-channel strategy is designed to connect with younger people -- wherever they are.

The Olympic Winter Games began this morning with the opening ceremony; the games run through Feb. 26 in Torino, Italy. NBC will air 418 hours of coverage on NBC, USA Network, CNBC, MSNBC and Universal HD.

The network has signed on a roster of technology stars. Google , Intel , Sun , Lenovo and Apple are partners.

"NBC's strategy on their site is to include a lot more video and interactive content within the site itself," said Jon Gibs, director of media analytics for Internet audience measurement firm Nielsen/NetRatings. "They’re making a great push for engaging the audience and giving them a TV-like atmosphere without it being on TV."

NBC will provide Google Video with 15-second previews of video available on NBCOlympics.com; fans will need to go to NBC's special site to see the full clips. In addition, results for Olympics-related queries on Google lead with a special box that includes relevant video clips and links to NBCOlympics.com. (The Google logo on Friday also referenced the games.)

TriggerNews.com will offer a downloadable application that will deliver news alerts to the desktop. ThinkPad manufacturer Lenovo sponsors the desktop alerts; users also can sign up for e-mail alerts to the desktop or wireless devices.

TV listings powered by Zap2it.com lets site visitors navigate through the hours and hours of broadcasts to find segments of interest to them. Viewers can sort the listings by sport, network, day and time, as well as search by keywords to find broadcasts featuring a particular athlete, team or country.

Gibs said the search tool would be especially useful to those who only want to watch certain events. "This allows them to find the television that's relevant, rather than them having to wade through six hours of "Wide World of Sports."

Those who don’t want to sit in front of the TV or computer have plenty of options. The Apple iTunes service will host a daily audio podcast of the day's highlights and the next day's preview, hosted by sports announcer Bob Costas. Many mobile phone carriers will be able to access a mobile version of NBCOlympics.com, created by Zingy. Goldpocket Wireless powers a mobile alert system.

Hitting the mobile sphere is a smart move, said Larry Weber, CEO of W2 Group, a marketing services company.

"The youth market is focused mostly on their mobile devices," Weber said. "If the youth market has shown interest in the Olympics, then getting to them on the way they like to look at information is the right way to do it."

Weber wasn't convinced that kids would bother to download much onto their iPods, however -- unless Bode wins a Gold or does something totally ripped. He said kids look at the clips wherever they can find them, then move on.

NBC Olympics will make available at least five video highlights daily through MobiTV, a subscription service that streams video to mobile devices. MobiTV will set up a special channel for the Olympics. The service is available in the United States through Cingular, Alltel and several regional carriers; in the United Kingdom through 3 and Orange UK; and in Canada through Bell Canada, Rogers and TELUS Mobility.

"We've done baseball games, but the Olympics is a first for the industry -- and this is a first for the Olympics," said Dave Whetstone, chief marketing officer for MobiTV.

Fans also will be able to access ringtones, including Olympic themes, national anthems or athlete playlists, and wallpapers, such as country flags and images of the Torino Games, by text-messaging "Torino" to NBCTV on Web-enabled phones. The mobile offerings are also available online.

In a cross-promotional agreement with About.com, NBCOlympics.com will feature links to About.com content, while About.com will promote the Olympics site to its visitors. Both sites will feature the "About Olympics" blog, written by About.com's travel writer James Martin.

Weber thought this was a yawner. He said NBC should have partnered with extreme sports blogs and social networks devoted to snowboarding. "I would go to the Web's social places, if they want to get the young audience," he said. "Google is for older people."

According to Media Week, the Olympics have been good to NBC, delivering top audiences during the February sweeps month. During the 2002 Winter Olympics, NBC smoked the competition, reaping a 19.2 household rating in prime, while CBS averaged a 6.2 followed by Fox with a 4.7 rating and ABC with a 4.6.

In a statement, Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics, said, "Nothing replaces the shared experience of watching the Olympics on television."

He wishes.

In fact, TV executives have been running scared by studies showing that, when it comes to younger men, the Internet and mobile media are replacing the tube.

By 2004, the trend was clear. A report by the Online Publishers Association and comScore Networks found that 34 percent of Internet users were 18 to 34 years old. They accounted for 38 percent of total minutes spent online and 40 percent of all pages viewed.

NBC is laying down big money in sites where the boys are, according to Nielsen's AdRelevance, a service that tracks advertising spends. In January 2006, it shelled out for 82.5 million impressions to drive traffic to the NBC Olympics site. By far the most impressions were served in ESPN.com, with guy-friendly sites like IGN.com, GameSpot and Rotten Tomatoes also doing some heavy lifting.

By contrast, NBC served only around 3.4 million awareness ads to more mature sites like iVillage and Arizona Central, with About.com accounting for 2.9 million of those.

Said Gibs, "It looks like they’ve made a very decisive move. They want to get this young male population to the Olympics site."