Australia needs gold to avoid Olympics media fizzer

The London Olympics could be an interactive media flop simply due to the timezone difference and Australia losing its edge in the pool.

While the early numbers suggest that broadcasters and publishers are getting reasonable traffic, the lack of gold medals is likely to dampen media consumption among success-hungry Australians.

“If these Olympics were being shown in our daytime the video streaming figures would be higher,” said media analyst Peter Cox. “It's hard work being an Olympic fanatic in Australia because the timing factor is just plain awful. Plus the rest of the world has caught up with us [in some key sports].”

Cox said he expects viewer fatigue to set in earlier than usual in this Olympics, because of the dreaded timezone problem and simply due to the reality that gold medals will be harder to come by.

Nine picked up an average of 1.8 million viewers in prime-time last night and will be hoping the Australian team can produce some winners in fields such as cycling and hockey to drive audience numbers.

The big winner could be the media publishers such as Fairfax, which is delivering quality online coverage to Olympic enthusiasts. As expected, consumers are supplementing their mainstream or pay-TV broadcast usage with mobile and tablet content.

“Mobile traffic is up 31% on the Fairfax sites since the Olympics started, and their iPad usage is up 11%,' said MEC Sydney Trading Director Claire Richmond. “Consumers are watching the Today Show on Nine in the morning, then they are going to their mobile phones to follow the Olympics.”

In the evening, consumers are watching the television broadcast, and multi-tasking on social networks, smartphones and tablets. Social media activity is peaking around 7pm and lasting to around 11pm.

Those early figures confirm that smartphone usage is becoming a critical platform for publishers seeking to invade and compete with the television market during prime-time.

A report released today by Yahoo!7 said multi-screen behaviour is becoming the norm in Australia, with 60% of people accessing the Internet while watching television. Eighteen percent of households now own a tablet device.

Annual smartphone purchases have risen almost fivefold worldwide since the Beijing Olympics four years ago. Some of the media companies have recognised the opportunity to capture this market with the BBC providing live-streamed coverage exclusively for smartphones and tablets, as has Comcast's NBC Universal.

However, NBC is getting hammered for holding back major event coverage until US primetime, and not showing major events live, such as the Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte 400 metre individual medley final. Instead US viewers had the opportunity to watch it live online, but it was a poor quality stream and many consumers did not bother.

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