NBC to exploit mobile TV at Olympics

RCR Wireless News
NBC Universal’s digital team has big plans this summer for its coverage of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing – a colossal event and content-filled waterfall – that it hopes might increase awareness and whet the appetite for mobile television, George Kliavkoff, the company’s chief digital officer, said Monday afternoon.

The network plans to exploit every minute of its exclusive coverage of the games here in the United States with a complete package of programming on television, online and mobile.

“I think it will be a game changer for all digital platforms. It’s going to be the single largest digital media event ever,” Kliavkoff said.

NBC’s two existing channels on MediaFLO USA Inc. – NBC 2Go and NBC News 2Go – will be chalk full of Olympics coverage, Kliavkoff said, adding that Olympics coverage would, in effect, take over that pair of channels throughout the games. It also plans to make clips available on all the major carrier’s mobile TV service offerings.

“We’re very aggressive about distributing our content across all digital platforms,” he said. “Mobile for us, we see as one of the biggest, if not the biggest, platform for the future.”

Yet, like other NBC executives tasked with developing a profitable mobile business, Kliavkoff was asked to explain just what his boss, NBC Universal President and CEO Jeff Zucker, meant when he sounded a down note on the mobile industry earlier this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“It’s actually not that important,” media outlets quoted him as saying. “We’re obviously playing in this world, but playing in a small way.” Indeed, Zucker went further and argued for the mobile-phone industry to cut better deals with entertainment companies for providing content. Companies like NBC typically only get a 10% cut of revenue share from the carriers, he said, according to reports.

“It’s the very early innings and people should just be patient,” Kliavkoff said.

“Mobile is not a large part of our digital revenue,” he said. “We’re going to continue to invest. I think we need to figure out as an industry how to invest together.

NBC Universal is projected to bring in about $1 billion in revenue on the digital side this year, Kliavkoff said.

“Of that, mobile today is not a large chunk of it. It’s a piece of it,” he said. “I think the biggest problem we have is all the venture money that’s coming into this market,” which is making people hesitant.

Kliavkoff dismissed any perceived clash between content providers and carriers, and instead opted to point out “different short-term goals” despite similar incentives to see mobile television succeed.

“We’re ready to put some money where our mouth is and create some original mobile content,” he said, but only after a proper framework and business model is agreed to at large. And who can blame NBC Universal for demanding solid return assurances before it goes full throttle with a mobile business.

He also pointed to log-jams that NBC is still grappling with on online video.

“The good news is when you’re associated with television advertising you get reach,” Kliavkoff said, adding that a true measurement model will have to be developed and adhered to before any significant advertising begins to flow towards mobile.

“This is the great opportunity in front of the industry. I think about measurements across all three screens,” he said. “Online we don’t have a common currency and we have gross inaccuracies.”

And with mobile it’s much, much worse, he said. “The carriers haven’t released a lot of usage data understandably at this point.”

The company is, however, emboldened by all the recent hype and carrier commitments to open networks.

“Nothing makes us happier because if you have the best content available you’re truly going to win on open platforms,” Kliavkoff said.

Beyond that the company also has significant spectrum holdings (at least 25% of it is untapped) that it’s considering using to deliver wireless TV.

Still, Kliavkoff doesn’t think it could succeed at launching something like that on its own. Again, it would require partnerships and an industrywide framework that involves all the players.

“I think it’s way too early to say if there’s going to be one platform provider or not,” he said, adding that whatever it is, most important is that the consumer doesn’t even notice or need to notice the technology being used to deliver content.

“Very, very early days and along with early days comes some frustration and opportunity,” Kliavkoff said of the current mobile TV business. “I think it’s just nothing but opportunity in front of us.”