The Olympic thievery conspiracy?

NBC to limit online content for Vancouver Games.

February 13, 2010 17:50
4 minute read.
The 'NBC team'.

NBC 311. (photo credit: AP)


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Thievery is not a term usually associated with the Olympics, but the stealing of televised content has become a new event for the American television network, NBC, to compete against. 

Before the XXI Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver opened over the weekend, NBC had already begun making bold adjustments to combat online pirates from independently distributing the Olympic events to the World. 

For the Vancouver games, NBC announced that it would only stream the hockey and curling events live online, totaling roughly 400 hours of video, in contrast to the network’s unprecedented free distribution of 5,000 hours of live video online during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. 

All other Winter Olympic sporting events taking place in Vancouver until February 28 will only be available through locally televised broadcasts.

NBC is expecting 200 million viewers to tune in for the Vancouver Games – the first to be shot entirely in high definition, marking another decisive technological change with how the Olympics will be presented, coaxially and illegally online, to a global audience in pristine quality.  In order to preserve its distribution of the Olympic events, NBC approached the live video sites and to block any live broadcasts of the games on their sites. 

The television network will also utilize web-crawling tools to scour the Internet and attempt to block event content from being broadcast or distributed during the games.  

According to an article published on, NBC is giving two separate explanations for the change in amount of coverage distributed online – piracy and lack of interest.    

Rick Cotton, NBC Universal executive vice president and general counsel, remarked: “Our aim is to make access to pirated material inconvenient, low quality and hard to find.”  

In connection to Web-based distribution of the games, “You are never going to go to zero. But there has been a sea change in terms of recognition of the problem.” Outside of the NBC Web page, it was estimated that the opening ceremony in Beijing was illegally downloaded via BitTorrent Web sites over two million times in the first week of the games, and based on a 2008 top-ten list of most downloaded torrents from, the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony was the second most downloaded television show of 2008, with 4,620,000 global downloads. 

Despite the illegal downloading, according to the official Beijing Olympic Web page, an estimated two billion people watched the Beijing Opening Ceremony, making it the most watched television show in world television history. 

In August 2008, estimates place many of the Olympic events to have been downloaded from the Swedish BitTorrent Web site, The Pirate Bay, the number one Web site for distributing files around the world, as many as 50,000 times each.

During the Beijing Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) sent an official letter to the Swedish government for assistance in preventing and combating video clips from the games to be distributed on The Pirate Bay. 

The action was without success as the growing video distribution phenomenon continued throughout the Beijing Olympics and thereafter.

Additionally, NBC estimates 250 million global viewers watched both the streaming live events and re-broadcasted content on NBC’s official Olympic Web page throughout the course of the Beijing games.

“One of the things we learned in Beijing is that people really go to the Web for highlights,” said Perkins Miller, SVP of Digital Media at NBC Universal. “It is about the water-cooler moment and staying connected to the games through instant storytelling. People are not dying to watch lots of long-form content on a 13-inch [computer] screen.” 

Under contract with the IOC through 2012, NBC paid $820 million in rights fees to broadcast the Olympic Games in Vancouver, marking the sixth and final Winter Olympic Games. 

Despite an estimated $400,000-$575,000 price tag per 30-second spot for prime-time Olympics telecasts, The Hollywood Reporter suggested in a recent article that NBC and its corporate parent, General Electric, could lose as much as $250 million in lost advertising revenue due to the global economic recession.     

Daniel Kramer of Nyack, New York, an Olympic enthusiast, thinks NBC is not taking the right course of action by only showing the events on broadcast television.

“I believe that NBC should instead embrace online piracy with free viewing of the games interlaced with commercials similar to how they [NBC] present their television shows on in the United States,” Kramer said.  ”It is my feeling that people around the World would opt for this standard instead since it may provide better quality and easier access to the events with the time differences around the world.”

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