Twitter Partners With NBC for 2012 Olympics in London

For the first time in history, the Games organized in London this year fell on the heyday of social networking. Along with the usual television broadcasts, thousands of people from all around the world posted real-time highlights of the event on social networks. Moreover, many Internet users got themselves a new hobby: leaving comments in their microblogs or even conducting their own online broadcasts of the Games to the “connected” audience.

Social networks, realizing that this is their chance to increase audience loyalty, helped users in their endeavour. Back in June, Facebook introduced a special page that has links to accounts of athletes, Olympic teams and individual sport disciplines. Google too created an Olympic page, and even the main attraction of the British capital, the London Eye, was programmed to respond in color to the general mood of tweets during the Games.

Twitter itself teamed up with the NBC channel and ran a special project in which it selected the most important tweets from athletes, coaches, fans and other people involved in the Olympics. NBC advertised the Twitter page (for free as some believe) during its program broadcasts. The special project was available only in the U.S., where NBC owns exclusive rights to broadcast the Games, and the tandem at first glance looked quite modern: television and the Internet decided not to compete but complement each other.

Only the “modern” NBC broadcasted the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games on tape delay and not in real-time, which caused the anticipated storm of anger in the United States, and especially among the Internet users. They perfectly understood that during those three extra hours they have to wait for the broadcast, all the details of the opening ceremony would be leaked on Twitter or Facebook. Having lost the opportunity to comment on the opening ceremony, bloggers took their anger out on NBC, accusing the television channel of backwardness (“welcome to the 21st century”), stupidity (“how can one ignore such an event?”) and greed (“NBC wants to broadcast the ceremony in prime time just to raise more money “).

NBC explained later that their decision to postpone the broadcast for three hours, that is until the evening prime time (for the U.S. West Coast the delay was six and a half hours), was in fact motivated by a desire to gather a maximum number of viewers. NBC paid 1.18 billion dollars for the exclusive rights to broadcast the Olympic Games, so it is not surprising that its management wanted to recapture at least some of that funding with costly advertising in prime time.

NBC also justified the delay in ceremony broadcast by the fact that most of its live footage can be found on the channel’s official website. But at the same time, NBC “forgot” to mention that the U.S. Internet users can get access to the online video content only if they are subscribed to the network’s cable package. Oops.

The most desperate of those who thought of the NBC’s policy as truly villainous, decided to follow the Olympic Games through a not so legal approach (eg by hacking the BBC’s official website that features live broadcasts of all Olympic events). Those who decided to wait for the tape delay broadcast found even more reasons for discontent. Perhaps, the most scandalous story was that of the freestyle swimming competition at 400 meters: while NBC was rolling some kind of a pseudo-sports interview, the Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte has brought America its first gold medal. Most Americans learned about it from news reports (including NBC). And only a few hours later could they finally witness the victory of the athlete with their own eyes.

One of the fiercest critics of NBC appeared to be The Independent reporter, Guy Adams. In his Twitter blog, he defied the network and offered his readers (and there had been something of no less than 10,000 of them) to splash out all their anger on Gary Zenkel, President of the NBC Olympics, responsible for broadcasting the Games. To do this, Adams posted Zenkel’s email address on his blog.

Shortly after this, Guy’s Twitter account was blocked because the journalist, as the Twitter’s administration explained, violated their confidentiality policy. Critics were angered by this even more, because on the backdrop of the Olympic cooperation between Twitter and NBC, blocking Guy’s account could be interpreted as an attempt to censor criticism of one of the partners.

In support of the insulted journalist, bloggers began writing tweets with hashtags such as #guyadams and #NBCFail, spreading Zenkel’s email address and calling for a boycott of NBC. Someone exceptionally witty even created a Twitter microblog @NBCDelayed, which became a place of satirical tweets, ironizing on the various kinds of timeline delays (eg “American colonists declared independence, King to respond”). The microblog became extremely popular in a matter of days.

Twitter later admitted their mistake and recovered Adams’ microblog. Their arguments, however, sounded pretty convoluting: the Twitter’s employees working on the special Olympic project noticed Adams’ tweet and reported it to the NBC representatives, advising them to file a standard appeal. NBC filed a complaint, and Twitter blocked the intruder’s page without thinking twice.

It is the fact that the idea of filing an appeal came from Twitter that forced the staff to reconsider: the Twitter administration stresses that is not engaged in monitoring records or their content, and only responds to user complaints. A complaint may be filed only by a person whose personal data has been compromised or by one of his/her representatives. Twitter does not however justify Adams’ actions since the company is not aware whether or not a person uses its corporate email address for personal reasons, therefore, it does not allow the publishing of email addresses at all. Adams’ tweet is still available as a matter of fact, and the number of subscribers almost doubled since this story surfaced on the Internet.

Blocking the journalist’s account has received such a resonance that The Telegraph agency decided to remind its readers of the kind of material that is not tolerated on Twitter. The article was published on July 31, but the day before a 17-year-old teenager from England, concealed under a nickname @Rileyy_69 has published a number of offensive tweets in the address of an English Olympic diver Tom Daley. On the following day, police arrested the unrestrained blogger.

Olympic athletes themselves get into trouble because of the inappropriate tweets. In the first days of the competition, two athletes were sent back home earlier than planned: a Swiss footballer Michel Morganella for posting a rather insolent comment on Twitter in regard to his South Korean colleagues and a Greek triple jumper Paraskevi Papachristou for racist Twitter remarks.

All of these incidents and the public interest in them show just how deeply connected we are by the means of social networking and Twitter in particular. It serves to millions of users from all around the world as an excellent tool to obtain information, communicate with friends and splash their emotions, so much so that fans in the stadiums have already been asked to restrain from tweeting too often, so as not to interfere with television broadcasts.

Ruslan Potokin is an undergraduate student in software engineering and the owner of Alpha Web Systems, a Montreal based company offering services in web design and graphic design solutions. He writes about a variety of topics, including the Social Media, Blogging, Internet Guidelines, Online Marketing, Mobile and Computer Technologies.

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