How Twitter's exposing NBC's Olympic failures

Television ratings are up for the 2012 Olympics, even with so-called spoilers all over the Internet. Blogger and author Jeff Jarvis talks about NBC's failures to keep up with the Twittersphere.

Kai Ryssdal: All right, so I was kidding about tape delaying the show. But a lot of people -- like my whole Twitter feed and beyond -- have been stewing over what NBC's doing to the Olympics.

Strategic tape delays to get the good stuff on the air in primetime. Prime audience and prime advertiser time. It's crazy-making because it's almost impossible to not know who won and who lost before good old-fashioned broadcast television tells us.

And the kicker is that NBC's audience numbers for the Games are better than ever.

Jeff Jarvis writes and talks about this stuff all the time. His most recent book on the topic is called "Public Parts." Jeff, good to have you with us.

Jeff Jarvis: Thank you.

Ryssdal: Why are people so upset about this? I mean, it started on Friday night with the opening ceremonies, and has not relented.

Jarvis: The head of NBC Sports just said to a reporter that people don't have an inalienable right to get everything they want. Well, maybe on the Internet, we do think we can get everything we want, and we expect to have the very best there. And we're in a world now where we know information immediately. And for someone to still try to control that and keep it from us, it doesn't work anymore.

Ryssdal: It's a trust thing, right? We are trusting NBC to do us right?

Jarvis: What a channel does is curate -- in a word we like to use online. It picks the best stuff, it adds value to that. And so, the audience is still asking NBC to do its job on its old-fashioned channels.

Ryssdal: So it seems to me that NBC is stuck a little bit, between the disgruntled masses who want what they want when they want it, and the billions of dollars that it has invested in this whole thing in the Olympics.

Jarvis: NBC is really stuck between old business models and new Internet reality. The good news for them ought to be that the audience is mad that they're not putting some of the important live events on the old-fashioned broadcast channel. Twitter is a gigantic spoiler machine -- and Facebook and the blogs. So I believe if they showed these hot contests during the day, there'd be even more chatter on Twitter, there'd be even a bigger audience. Instead what there is is a huge new hashtag called #NBCfail, which is at least as entertaining as ping pong.

Ryssdal: That's right, although the ping pong was pretty good. The other thing that needs to be talked about though, Jeff, is the economic relationship between Twitter and NBC, right?

Jarvis: Yes. Twitter and NBC now has a relationship, which means Twitter has a business model. But it also led to some problems. Twitter suspended the account of Guy Adams, who's a journalist for The Independent in London, who complained about the Olympics coverage and also put out the email address of an NBC executive. Well this worried a lot of us -- you and I in the media worry about the wall between church and state. Trust is our business, trust is our asset, and if we found ourselves giving favor to our advertisers, we'd lose that trust.

Ryssdal: How much do you think Twitter's using this NBC relationship as a testbed, really, to see what they can get going?

Jarvis: Twitter has been a huge success and platform in search of a business model. So if it can find ways to work with media properties -- it's working with NASCAR and now with the Olympics -- I think that's the beginning of a sustainable future for Twitter. But the fear is that it could change the very essence of Twitter. If Twitter starts to favor its advertisers over its users, if it becomes less of a platform and more of closed media entity, that would be a great disappointment.

Ryssdal: Yeah, well it's a question of what it becomes, right? Does it stay a tech company or does it become a media company?

Jarvis: We're changing the definition of both. And necessarily, a tech company will become a media company, and a media company darn well better become a tech company -- or they won't survive.

Ryssdal: Jeff Jarvis, his book about all this stuff is called "Public Parts." You can get him on Twitter at @jeffjarvis. Jeff, thanks a lot.

Jarvis: Thank you, Kai.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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