Despite the growth in popularity of the FIFA World Cup with TV audiences worldwide, the Olympic Games remains the world's largest broadcast event. This month's Beijing Games are expected to generate record ratings, thanks largely to the introduction of new media platforms. US network NBC plans to study the impact of these new platforms on traditional viewing habits.
NBC Universal (NBCU) will be screening an incredible 5800 hours of coverage of this summer's Olympic Games via its TV and online service offerings. That's just short of eight continuous months of back-to-back footage over both platforms.
However, aside from the vast scale of the broadcasting effort, there is another point of significance for the industry at large.
In order to establish how people choose to watch such popular content, available and of interest around the globe, NBCU will be utilising a network of audience monitoring technologies to provide what could be the most detailed and comprehensive survey of the public's new media viewing habits.
The aim of the research project is to produce a total audience measurement index (TAMi) across all TV formats, VOD, online and mobile.
"An event of this magnitude requires the biggest and most sophisticated research effort to measure it," says Alan Wurtzel, NBCU president of research.
"The size and duration of the Olympics presents us with extraordinary opportunities to gather data on viewer behaviour. Not only will we measure these Games in a way we've never attempted previously, but we'll also be able to gather data that helps us better understand new media consumers. By the conclusion of these Olympic Games, no other research entity in the world will have as much knowledge on cross-platform usage as NBC Universal."
The triple-pronged research effort will be partnered by Integrated Media Measurement Inc (IMMI), which will use customised mobile handsets to monitor media consumption by individual participants. Around 40 IMMI handsets will be distributed prior to the Games.
The handset detects the audio cues of NBCU programming and will also be running software to monitor the internet usage of each subject regardless of whether they are at home.
The passive nature of the system removes the need for any interaction from the user and with it, any possible distortion when interpreting their viewing habits.
The IMMI system also allows time-shifting TV behaviour to be monitored for the first time.
In addition to audience figures for the various broadcast streams the organisation also intends to closely monitor user behaviour on its website as it looks to gauge the value of the additional features that will be part of the company's dedicated Olympic offering.
The NBCU Olympic site will feature a host of individual performance statistics, results and medal tables across all events, interactive games as well as archived video and audio reports.
New media audience measurement specialist Quantcast will deliver detailed metrics of not just of how many users visit the site but of how long they spend viewing the various pages available.
NBCU will also be carrying out 500 consumer surveys to assess how users utilise the various platforms available to them.
Having invested US$3.5 billion for the broadcast rights to the previous five Olympic Games, including an estimated $850 million for the Beijing event alone, NBCU will be keen to generate as much value from its involvement as possible.
The Beijing Games represents the fifth and final of NBCU's exclusive US rights deal.
The actual exclusivity of the deal has been eroded over time as the number of online sources increases and P2P platforms continue to operate.
The obvious effect on audience figures reduces the value of the Games as a marketing tool not just to potential advertisers but also to the network itself.
NBC could rightly justify making a loss on the Games coverage itself, so long as the exclusivity of the deal ensures higher ratings for the broadcaster's stable of programming aired in conjunction and during its Olympic coverage.
NBCU can at least put those fears to one side. With 85 percent of the organisation's inventory aready sold, the projected revenue total was estimated at $1.1 billion.
The organisation's investment will also benefit the wider industry via the scrolls of data which will result from the audience measurement over the course of the Games.
In the Middle East, television audience measurement is fairly under-developed although print media circulations are audited more closely. The NBCU TAMi system can add an increased level of trust in digital advertising from the advertisers themselves.
This could be viewed as a green light for many companies that remain hesitant to invest in new platforms.
Advertising revenues are becoming a more important source of revenue across several broadcast sectors. Pay TV operators must maximise their advertising yield to offset some of the losses from pirated services. The major FTA networks meanwhile, contend with fierce competition; the availability of innovative additional platforms could prove a key differentiator.
Increasing advertising revenues in the Middle East are likely to encompass a growing share of digital advertising and a reliable TAMi could prove to be a vital tool to quantify the drift of eyeballs away from traditional media. With digital advertising currently accounting for just one percent of all revenues, the TAMi could have a hugely positive impact in this region.
While consumer uptake of HDTV-ready television receivers continues unabated, projected interest in HDTV broadcast services remains difficult to ascertain in this region, given the fact HD content is restricted to Blu-ray movies or games played on consoles such as PS3 or X-Box.
Broadcasting this year's Games in HD will offer the industry another yardstick, this time for the appetite of audiences for the technology.
NBCU broadcast selected content from the 2002 Winter Olympics in HD. However, the Beijing Games will be the first to be broadcast entirely in HD.
In the US, audience interest in the Games remains strong, with footage of the US Olympic trials even managing to sneak into NBC's primetime schedule.
The implementation of developing broadcast technologies such as HDTV and VOD will also be a huge opportunity to educate the market about the new technologies, the differences between them and their capabilities.
Or, it could prove that the public are already knowledgeable of, and equipped for new media platforms.
Beijing Olympic Broadcasting (BOB) is the organising body's official Olympics broadcasting organisation. The organisation will employ a massive number of staff and technologies to broadcast the Games.