How NBC Sports Delivered the Most Watched Digital Event in History

How NBC Sports Delivered the Most Watched Digital Event in History

During last year’s Rio Olympics, over 100 million viewers streamed 3.5 billion minutes of coverage on web, mobile, and other connected devices, setting a new worldwide standard for live digital events. NBC’s coverage included more than 2,000 distinct events with 50 concurrent livestreams — all in just seventeen days. By anyone’s measure, NBC Sports put the scale in scalable with this achievement.

While most of us lack a tentpole event such as the Olympics, we are all dealing with similar challenges. Today’s media and entertainment consumers demand their content when and where they want it, expecting continuous, consistent experiences across devices that rival broadcast quality — and, they’re moving to digital platforms in greater numbers. According to NBC, the number of digital users rose 29 percent from the London games, for instance; and among millennials, the percentage of streaming viewers was even higher: more than one-half of the digital audience for the Olympics was under the age of 35. The future will see continued convergence between linear and digital.

Sports has always been at the forefront of this change. A recent Q4 Digital Video Benchmark Report showed that sports are fueling video growth across screens: one-quarter of all sports-video content is viewed on mobile devices. Interestingly, game consoles are one of the fastest growing video-consumption devices — in general, we have seen viewing going back into the living room through these consoles and connected devices.

At last month’s Adobe Summit, Eric Black (CTO and senior vice president of NBC Sports/Playmaker Media) detailed how they delivered the largest, most successful digital event in history. Following are a few of his recommendations:

  • Be Scalable — NBC couldn’t have supported the demands of its vast audience on its own infrastructure using just its own technical staff. No budget would allow for that much elasticity. The cloud provided the redundancy to deliver a bulletproof experience. NBC Sports used Adobe partner, Microsoft Azure, for the Olympics. Microsoft used two major data centers — one on the west coast, and one on the east coast — where either center could reroute to the other, if needed. Using two centers also enabled data to be delivered closest to viewers.
  • Be Personal — For the streamed content, NBC replaced broadcast-TV commercials with targeted ads using data points such as device, type, audience behaviors, Nielsen segments, and even psychographic data to give audiences more relevant ads.
  • Be Connected — During his Summit session, Black discussed how people’s consumption patterns for sports are completely changing. NBC supported ten consumer platforms — including connected TVs for the first time via devices such as Rokus, Amazon Fire Sticks, Apple TVs, and Samsung virtual-reality platforms. They could achieve this by having one authoring interface that deployed content to multiple devices and a system that continually monitored performance from the cloud to the device.
  • Be Integrated — NBC used a unified data foundation to ensure one view of each viewer — no matter which device he or she was using — powering dynamic-ad serving, analytics, and performance monitoring. Unified data metrics can also unite your company across organizational silos, so everyone is shooting for the same goals and key performance indicators (KPIs).

While delivering an event of this scale takes many systems and partners, Black’s Summit session contained one overriding piece of advice: build a unified, flexible digital marketing foundation that allows your content to shine. Most businesses spend massive resources and time cobbling together different digital marketing tools instead of running campaigns or generating revenue. With an integrated digital foundation, companies reduce time to production, support multiple platforms, and can monitor and analyze integrated data to see a holistic view of their audiences. The technology should unleash your content — not stand in its way.

Adobe just published a guide — “Content Unleashed: A Digital Foundation for Media and Entertainment” — that outlines the concrete steps for building a flexible, robust digital foundation in media and entertainment, just as NBC did. The publication implores you to build the right base so your data, KPIs, and internal teams are integrated, aligned, and ready for the next profitable event. You may not have 100 million viewers, but you can still be prepared for your own version of the Olympics.

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