Interview: Perkins Miller, SVP, Digital Media, NBC Sports And Olympics: The Mobile Surprise

Matt Kapko
Monday, August 18, 2008 2:00 AM

The Olympics are now in full swing. Countless records have been broken and the touchy-feely stories and analysis often hit the point of nausea. Still, there's plenty more to come ? programming choices are being coordinated across multiple screens and continents every day. NBC Universal ( NYSE: GE) is already reflecting on the Beijing Games with eyes wide open. It talks about a surprising surge of mobile usage that seemingly surpassed its own predictions. On the flip side of the coin, there's already been some text alert snafus and the network's online property mostly ignored Usain Bolt of Jamaica's world record performance on the 100 meter dash. On Friday afternoon (early Saturday morning in Beijing) we caught up with Perkins Millers, SVP of digital media at NBC Sports and Olympics (and our co-editor, Staci D. Kramer interviewed him the other week), as he and his team were winding down after a long day in Beijing, only to wake up (if there was any sleep at all) a few hours later to do it all over again. These are some excerpts from our interview:

What resources is NBC putting into mobile platforms for its Olympics coverage?

The network is taking advantage of its scale and weaving its strengths together with partners, particularly a large number of video vendors. This project requires the resources of the company and its vendors so that content can get pushed out to all channels at the same time. The feeds first land in New York where they're transcoded, processed and put into batches of clips for short-form viewing.

What are some of the features you're seeing the most success with on mobile? Are you trying anything new and/or innovative?

The alert programs are the most popular? We quickly exceeded the total page views our site tracked in (the 2006 winter Olympics)? The biggest challenge was to push viewers to the mobile platform. We have half a million unique visitors everyday on mobile, about half of which are accessing mobile for the first time. We see significant growth? We basically doubled our uniques from the day of the opening ceremonies to the Saturday? It shows that people aren't disconnecting from their mobile phone on the weekends. Indeed, people actually might be relying more on mobile on the weekend. works as our Olympics hub, and so we're not only getting the regular carrier deck users? A significant amount of our traffic is direct. It's not all coming through the carrier deck. (NBC wouldn't give any specifics on exactly how much of their traffic is coming off deck.)

More on mobile usage, return visitors and risks after the jump.

How much of the mobile content from the Olympics has an advertising component? Are there enough mobile ads for NBC to at least break-even on its mobile plans during the games?

Advertisers buy into a unified program? They want to integrate across multiple platforms with some direct, targeted spending on mobile. It's not as if it's an add-on. When advertisers contact us they already know they want pre-roll ads, custom content and targeted messages.

How much usage has NBC seen on mobile thus far?

As of August 15, we're tracking more than 16 million visits overall since the start of the games and 3 million unique visits.

The Olympics have been billed as a major digital milestone for NBC. Can you talk about that and detail any risks that were taken along the way? Also what has NBC done to reach more people that might be accessing content on their cellphones for the first time?

I think with any project like this where you have a very fixed deadline ? that enters the risk right there because you have to deliver. That position led to our partner choices. In June we started testing for the U.S. Olympic team trials. We tested our alerts mechanisms to make sure they would work. There are 34 sports and 302 medal events ? lots of messages have to be processed. Making that work and simplifying it has been the biggest challenge for us. TV listings are strong for us on mobile as well. People are using their mobile to find out what's on and when.

Is there any way to determine how many return visitors you're getting on the mobile front?

One-quarter of the mobile visitors are returning frequently. A survey we did this week suggested many people are coming back every day. The team's been surprised by the quality of research available to us. We're only able to get statistically valid data because traffic has been so good.

Can you give us some anecdotes from the scene and talk about the effort being put into this endeavor?

In our operations hub in Beijing there are 30 desks crammed shoulder to shoulder in a white box. We have four 60-inch monitors on the wall tracking all the events simultaneously. The dynamic is very fluid. Following the initial surge we experienced coming off the opening ceremonies into the weekend we weren't sure what kind of behavior to expect coming out of the weekend. Everything is up. It's not just a story of mobile for weekend sports fans.

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