NBC is using the Olympics as a "billion-dollar research lab" to learn how people are using various media platforms to experience the Beijing Games that begin Aug. 8.
Besides giving advertisers a clearer picture of how much attention consumers are paying to the events, NBC hopes its research provides a comprehensive picture of how people supplement TV viewership with tools such as video streaming, video on demand and mobile phones, said Alan Wurtzel, the company's research chief.
"The billion-dollar lab is an extraordinary research opportunity," he said.
NBC has scheduled 3,600 hours of Olympics programming on its main network, along with Telemundo, USA, Oxygen, MSNBC, CNBC and Bravo. That's the equivalent of eight days of programming packed into each day.
In addition, the company is planning to make 2,200 hours of streaming video available on Nbc.com. Consumers may also get video on demand via their computers and Olympics content through their cellphones.
NBC relies on Nielsen Media Research for a count of how many people are watching the Olympics on television at home, but there is no research tool that pulls together all the different types of exposure, Wurtzel said. With the help of outside companies and its own research staff, NBC is using about 10 methods for measuring the audience.
NBC has contracted with Quantcast Corp. to get a sense of who is using Nbc.com. Besides streaming video, computer users are being offered reams of Olympics data and blogging during live events. NBC wants to know how many people will visit Nbc.com, what pages they are viewing and how much time they spend on the computer.
The data could be used on the fly to program the website. If one sport is doing particularly well with video on demand requests, Nbc.com might feature it on its home page.
Same thing with mobile phone content: Will phone owners be interested in event updates or streaming video?
"I have no idea how people are going to use this stuff," Wurtzel said.
NBC will also be working with Integrated Media Measurement Inc., which will distribute special cellphones to consumers. They will measure, through a signal included in Olympics audio, how much people are exposed to Olympics programming when they aren't at home.
NBC is conducting an online survey of 500 consumers each day, a total of 8,500 throughout the 17-day Games, asking detailed questions about their use of different media platforms. The company is also running focus groups.
In the old media world, television companies didn't particularly want evidence that consumers were doing anything other than watching their content on television. That's not so anymore, Wurtzel said.
"The whole idea is to get the same person and to touch them across all different sorts of platforms," he said.