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BEIJING 2008 : STEVE SPRINGER ON SPORTS MEDIA

The peacock has company

August 23, 2008|STEVE SPRINGER

When it comes to media, NBC is not the only game in town. Even if the town is Beijing and the subject is the Olympics.

It may seem that way, NBC's tentacles stretching from the Bird's Nest to the Water Cube to the distant equestrian competition in Hong Kong. Whether it's the tube, the computer or a mobile device, everything, it seems, has the NBC Universal stamp on it. A bid of $894 million buys you a lot of influence.

But not exclusivity. Whether it's newspapers like this one, or magazines like Sports Illustrated or cable networks like ESPN, or similar outlets from countries around the world, armies of media personnel have been covering these Games.

In 2008 as never before, that means online coverage as well as print and broadcast. And no outlet has been as effective at attracting fans online at the 2008 Games as Yahoo Sports. According to Nielsen Online, Yahoo attracted a daily average of 4.7 million unique users through the first 11 days of the Olympics, peaking with 7.6 million on Aug. 14.

NBC took the silver medal in this category with a daily average of 4.3 million, also peaking on Aug. 14 with 5.3 million. That was the day American audiences saw U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps win the sixth of his eight gold medals and Americans Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson finish with gold and silver, respectively, in the all-around gymnastics competition.

Rounding out the top five for daily online average were AOL Sports (1.3 million), Sports Illustrated (704,000) and ESPN (676,000).

Yahoo had the advantage of beginning the month as the No. 1 sports website, attracting 21.9 million unique users in July, according to comScore Media Metrix. ESPN was second with 18.1 million.

The Olympics have produced increased Web use for print outlets as well. The Web traffic at this newspaper, for example, has doubled during the Games.

As the online audience grows, so do the arguments over the fairest way to gauge those who click on. It's not as simple as television, where the two standards are the percentage of TV households and the percentage of televisions in use. For the online audience, the categories range from page views to time spent viewing to Internet share. For now, though, unique users, the number of people who visit a site in a single day, is the generally accepted measuring stick.

Though the online numbers continue to grow, they still have a long way to go to rival TV, the old-fashioned method of Olympic watching. Yahoo's total of nearly 52 million unique visitors through 11 days is still barely a quarter of the 200 million who watched one of the NBC channels over the same period.

But there is no question outlets like Yahoo are a rising media force, especially in the Pacific time zone where frustration over watching events labeled "live" but actually tape-delayed by three hours sends fans in search of results.

In Beijing, Yahoo operates with a skeleton staff compared with the 2,902 people representing NBC, the network's on-air crew alone totaling 105 announcers. Yahoo has a staff of about 20. Included in that group are former athletes-turned-analysts Janet Evans, Matt Biondi, Mike Powell, Dominique Dawes and Gretchen Bleiler.

Manpower isn't the only hurdle. In buying the broadcast rights, NBC secured exclusive access to all Olympic venues. NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol isn't about to welcome new kids to the block and clear out a spot for them to set up their cameras. But that hasn't stopped other websites from shooting video at the USOC training site and other locations away from competition venues.

What the additional Web traffic means for the future in terms of access and rights fees remains to be seen. This much is certain: The Olympic media landscape will never be the same.

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steve.springer@latimes.com

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