Predictably enough, NBC head honcho Jeff Zucker — the guy who previously ranted about how he’d rather have TV dollars than a few measly “digital pennies” — is crowing about how the massive viewership numbers for the Phelps… er, Olympic Games illustrate the dominance of network television and the relative irrelevance of the Interweb when it comes to video. After all, don’t the numbers show that 97 per cent of all Olympic content-watching took place on the tube? (Let’s leave aside the fact that watching anything online at NBC requires you to use Microsoft’s Silverlight, which only works on Windows). So the Internet, in other words, is nothing but a rounding error.
It’s natural enough that Zucker would put things in that perspective. After all, his salary comes from network television advertising, of which he just finished pulling in a billion dollars worth, so it’s understandable that he would be a little smug. But I think Jeff would be wise to remember one thing: the Olympics aren’t like regular television. They come along once every four years, and they are a massive social phenomenon unlike almost anything else that you can think of when it comes to TV viewing, as Cory Bergman at Lost Remote also points out.
Is the bulk of TV viewing still happening on the tube? Sure it is. But that number is shrinking, and even the TV watching that does happen is changing, thanks to DVRs and time-shifting and so on — not to mention BitTorrent and other solutions to network intransigence. Maybe with the Olympics, networks can get away with shelving the opening ceremonies for 12 hours or whatever it was, but not with much else. To extrapolate from the viewer numbers for the Olympics and reach the conclusion that network television has no problems would be the height of hubris. I hope Zucker’s Olympic after-glow doesn’t last too long.