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NBCU, Google to test Olympics coverage

Comscore partnership also lined up to measure viewing habits

Looking to make its 2012 Olympics coverage a testbed for measuring cross-platform viewing, NBCUniversal has signed Google and Comscore as the first partners in what will be a series of research collaborations with companies outside the conglomerate.

Google will measure the Olympic viewing habits of 3,000 consumers who have opted in to have their multiplatform usage tracked by the company. Comscore will draw on a subset of a panel with 10,000 users in order to hone in on demographic patterns.

The importance of understanding increasingly complex viewing habits was underscored last week by new cross-platform Nielsen data that found TV consumption dropping among viewers 18-34. That demo may be shifting its videowatching to digital platforms in a way that existing measurement capabilities lack the sophistication to fully note.

“The problem is, as people migrate and use other platforms, unless we get credit for that viewing, it’s going to have serious implications for the industry,” said Alan Wurtzel, president of research at NBCU.

NBCU has multiple goals for the research initiative. By getting a handle on how eyeballs scatter across different media when taking in the Olympics, the conglom will get a better handle on programming the event itself, which has been a challenge since the hundreds of hours were first spread beyond TV to the Internet.

The Olympics are also about as close as researchers can get to catching a glimpse of what the future of media consumption will be like given the sheer volume of content that streams across TV, the Web and wireless devices for a sustained period of time.

“It’s like Haley’s comet, you have to take advantage of this unique opportunity to understand contemporary behavior,” said Wurtzel.

That knowledge would not only be key to giving NBCU an understanding of how to program cross-platform in the future but how to monetize growing interest from advertisers who want to get more ambitious with their marketing beyond TV.

Wurtzel declined to reveal what other companies will be partnering with NBCU but said that social media and out-of-home viewing are some of the key areas that will also be tackled. Announcements of which companies will be concentrating on those areas are expected in the coming weeks.

The 2012 Games, which will bow in July from London, will mark the continuation of what Wurtzel has dubbed “the billion-dollar lab” — research resources applied to quantifying viewing patterns for the Olympics, which NBCU has paid massive sums to own the rights to for the foreseeable future.

The conglom is counting on a new batch of data to foretell changes in content consumption the way its research unit managed to do at the 2010 Games in Vancouver. Findings included explosive growth in video on the iPhone and a preference for content delivery via apps over the WAP-based mobile platform that has since fallen into relative disuse.

But those findings were gleaned from a tiny sample that will be dwarfed by what Google, Comscore and others will be able to utilize. Moreover, there will be more platforms to cover this year given tablets like the iPad that were barely in existence two years ago are now significant distribution points. Mobile viewing in general has grown in a way that makes the takeaway from the last Olympics almost obsolete.

“It astounds me to think how much the world has changed since Vancouver in 2010,” said Wurtzel.

NBCU has yet to specify its specific programming plans for the 2012 Olympics, but has indicated that live feeds will be available on digital platforms while the conglom’s array of TV channels will have more programming hours than ever.