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Is NBC’s Tight Leash on Olympics Webcasts a Mistake?

NBC is Webcasting much of the Olympics except for the most popular events. But new research by the network hints that its fear that Webcasting could reduce its television audience may be unfounded.

For Internet television, the Beijing Olympics represent a milestone. NBC has created a site with an unprecedented 2,200 hours of live Webcasts of Olympic events.

But the Olympics are also a powerful illustration of the current battle line between the big business of network television and the emerging medium of Web video. NBC’s broadcast and cable networks will air 700 hours of live events that will not be Webcast. And even more frustrating to some, another 700 hours of the contests will be taped and shown hours later on television, with no legal way for people in the United States to watch them before the broadcast. (All of the broadcast events are available to replay on the Internet after they are aired.)

These limits have exasperated no small number of people who heard about the spectacular opening ceremony Friday but couldn’t find any video of it online until after NBC broadcast it that night. NBC has said that it needs to keep the most popular events exclusive to television in order to serve the advertisers, affiliate stations and cable systems that have all paid heavily for a share of Olympic gold.

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