The real Channel 9 Olympic fail

Looking just at the ratings numbers (and aside from the financial loss), Channel 9 believes it wrapped up its free-to-air coverage of the Olympics in great form. But this viewpoint somewhat contradicts the widely reported negative sentiment seen on social media. One of the focal points for viewer complaints is the Channel 9 Olympics Coverage sucks Facebook page, which right now has been liked by nearly 28,000 people and continues to attract comments. This is almost half as many people who have liked Channel 9’s official Facebook page, with approximately 65,000 likes at present. However, even more astounding was a single comment that received over 187,000 likes and over 8,000 comments.

That’s a lot of likes, but let’s not forget that Channel 9 was still watched by millions of viewers. Something clearly isn’t right with this story, so who is right? On balance, was Channel 9’s coverage actually quite good or really bad?

I think its important to get beyond just the numbers. Numbers tell us about volume, but on their own they don’t necessarily explain what actually happened. The low friction nature of social media makes it fertile ground for ‘slacktivism‘, drive-by-comments and just plain old trolling. This can easily distort the meaning of what was happening online (and don’t trust unaudited sentiment analysis to judge this either). From my perspective this was that people were clearly engaged with the Olympics and wanted to engage online about it. If you are an advertiser, this means there was significant audience segment who were watching TV and also using social media to augment that experience.

For many people that shared experience was less than expected and became easily amplified and reinforced online through social media. In this respect, the negative sentiment towards Channel 9 quickly became part of the entertainment.

In all fairness to Channel 9, a TV production is a event with many moving parts (and legal contracts) and despite access to real-time feedback there were probably few elements they could adjust on the fly in the two week window of the Olympics.

If anything Channel 9’s failure wasn’t really the coverage, but a failure to anticipate how a social media Olympics would play out.

As a result their social media wasn’t integrated into their Olympic programming. Instead it was a half-hearted, mostly one-directional style of engagement with viewers. Had they been prepared they could have set themselves up in terms of combining:

  • Listen with the intent of making changes were they could or responding with clear common sense answers when they couldn’t.
  • Proactively providing activities on social media where viewers could participate in a way that would add value to the coverage (despite any inherent limitations in what Channel could broadcast).

Remember, Channel 9 had a monopoly on free-to-air coverage. This also gave them a potential monopoly to proactively facilitate what happened online too. The real ramifications of Channel 9’s social media fail will be the lack of subsequent engagement and goodwill from viewers, which will ultimately impact the value and return on investment for their sponsors. Unfortunately, the evidence so far strongly suggests that they and the Olympic machine more generally aren’t yet serious about activating the value of their second screen audience.

I haven’t given up hope completely. Reading Stella Young‘s post this morning:

I’m off to cover the Paralympics for Ramp Up, where I’ll be blogging and tweeting like a woman possessed. I might even pop up on your telly occasionally.

Maybe we might just see more #qanda style interaction and fewer quotes from wikipedia during the commentary…