Rory Cellan-Jones

US media's crimes against Web 2.0

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 13 Aug 08, 09:30 GMT

I've been on holiday - and mostly offline - in the United States for the last couple of weeks, but one story has caught my eye.

Olympics opening ceremony in BeijingTwo American "old media" organisations - a TV network and a newspaper - have had ridicule poured upon their heads for crimes against the Web 2.0 orthodoxy. But both companies may feel they are doing what is right for their 2008 audiences - and for their bottom line.

First in the dock is NBC which chose to broadcast the Olympics opening ceremony 12 hours after it happened in Beijing, in American prime-time. To a British viewer it was a bizarre move - while the rest of the world watched the ceremony live Americans had to wait - and even in the US, NBC came in for some heavy flak.

The New York Times described what it called a game of "whack-at-mole" as footage of the ceremony kept popping up all over the web, while NBC tried to protect its exclusive rights by suppressing it in a seemingly doomed attempt to prevent American citizens from getting an early peak.

The other media business under fire was the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper whose managing editor sent a memo to staff suggesting that much of the paper's best content - investigative scoops, reviews, features - should appear in print before it went online. You'd think from the reaction of the digerati that the Inquirer was planning to take down the internet and burn bloggers at the stake.

The US new media pundit and professor Jeff Jarvis described the move this way: "You are killing the paper. You might as well just burn the place down. You're setting a match to it...It is suicide. It is murder. You should be ashamed of yourselves." So, um, he thinks they might have got it wrong?

Of the two cases before the Web 2.0 court, NBC's is the easier. Its decision to show the Beijing opening in prime-time rather than live over American breakfast tables has left it rolling in Olympic gold. 34 million people tuned in to watch the ceremony - and the endless "messages" from big advertisers that proved an irritating distraction for this British viewer but hugely lucrative for NBC.

All the leaks on the web and the chatter in the blogs about the spectacular show may even have helped boost the audience, the biggest in the US for any Olympics not held in their territory.

For all the talk of the web taking the power from the schedulers and giving it back to the audience, it's still quite a struggle for anyone but the determined few to get what they want from the Olympics online.

Desperate to see Nicole Cooke's gold medal sprint in the cycling, I had to resort to YouTube - the footage was "not available in this territory" when I tried to watch it on the BBC website from New York. So, in 2008 at least, the broadcasters and the IOC are managing to hold back the web tide, to the benefit of the bottom line, if not the audience.

And what of the thought-crimes at the Philadelphia Inquirer? The paper may be in decline, but it may also feel that, right now, it still has to give its remaining old economy readers a reward for the 75 cents they shell out most days. Jeff Jarvis and many who've responded to his blog suggest there is now a perfect opportunity for a new Philadelphia online news operation to come and steal the Inquirer's lunch. But maybe breaking news - which will still go online first on the paper's - is not the future for newspapers anyway?

Perhaps in-depth investigations, crafted features, and trenchant, well-informed columnists will provide a more compelling reason to keep buying a paper. And will the Inquirer's online customers really be so aggrieved to get that content at the same time, or even a few hours after the sad old saps who like to turn a page rather than click on a link?

As the new media future arrives, old media organisations on both sides of the Atlantic are experimenting furiously with platforms they may struggle to understand. Newspaper reporters are trying to become broadcasters, TV news correspondents are doing a little light blogging, and broadcasters are making more of their content available online - NBC has had more than a million viewers for streamed footage of one swimming event.

But the habits of media audiences are changing more slowly than some pundits predicted - and getting too far ahead of them is as dangerous as being left behind. By 2012 the revolution may have happened, but for now the likes of NBC and the Philadelphia Inquirer are betting that they can still profit from the old model.


  • Comment number 1.

    Well to be fair to NBC it would appear that some of opening ceremony we all watched "live" happened the last time Beijing had a clear day which was substantially more than 12 hours before.

  • Comment number 2.

    At last, a BBC correspondent complaining about the coverage of the American Media.
    Very well done!

    Some more important thought-crimes which are filtered by the Ministry of Truth can be found here:


  • Comment number 3.


    You missed the point, people are going round saying this and that was faked in the openeing ceremony because it was filmed earlier.... if that is the case then the entire broadcast on american TV was faked, NBC cheated the US!

    This is what happens when a country is all about capitalism... I hope they all realise that in 20-odd years they will have to pay to vote in the presidential elections, and that the results will not be shown on TV until prime time, and that the new president will have to do his 'vows' in segments because of commercial breaks.

    Mind you, that all depend's on whether or not it more popular than a remake of Beverly Hill 90210........... the presidential results being broadcast on US TV could be canned if it doesn't have enough viewers.

    Ah, what a country!

  • Comment number 4.

    This is a worrying but increasingly evident trend with similar stances being held with many media outlets. Just as the music and the film industry have had to rethink their own business structures due to the way we consume their products, we are seeing a similar problem arising with other types of media. At a time when consumers are looking for media (be it information or entertainment) to be instantaneous, there appears to be an “old guard” who seem intent on, not necessarily restricting the media, but controlling who get access to it at what time.

    Unfortunately, as regional controls become ever more abundant, there is some degree of success to this. In turn this is alienating potential customers and causing an increase in people using “other means” to view the media. The question “Why should I wait a month to see Film X when it is currently out in the US?” or “Why can’t I view live coverage of the Olympics because NBC told me I couldn’t?” is being asked.

    Not that this is a new question, but now with blogs and other media outlets providing independent opinions, news and entertainment (be it pirate or not), the outlets are finding themselves engaged in the “wack-a-mole” approach to defending their exclusivity. However, instead of working in a new way to deliver to customers and adapting to the changes in the marketplace, we see the old guard sticking to the ways of the “good ol’ days”.

  • Comment number 5.

    At least Rory Cellan-Jones does attempt to understand NBC's and The Enquirer's motives, even 'though they may be alien, and not a little bewildering to him.

    These organisations are funded, not by a forced Poll Tax, but by actually earning the money to pay for the investments in their products.

    It's called business Rory, and business' ability to create wealth and earn money is ultimately what pays for the BBC to do whatever it likes. A business that makes no money is one that goes bust; and when they all go bust there will be no one left to pay for BBC extravagancies.

  • Comment number 6.

    I have read that the NBC model is far different from last Olympics games. They will hold about 2/3 of the games (more than 2 thousand hours of footage out of more than 3) on their website, requesting that someone installs Silverlight from Microsoft to view the content.

    It is apparently a big move because they was very few content on NBC's website about last Olympics game, and now they offer a lot of footage extremely quickly, with written comments and such.

    If we follow this path, NBC could hold almost the entire next Olympics in live on it's website in 2010 or 2012, who knows?

  • Comment number 7.

    Mighty Morfa Power Ranger

    No I'm not missing the point. I see nothing wrong with what NBC did. They showed the Olympics at a time that would best suit the most viewers. They didn't lie about it. The Chinese showed footage that was either recorded earlier or computer generated and tried to pass it off as live. That's the difference between them.

    NBC had the rights to the event and had they shown it in the morning when only a handful of people could watch they would have lost out on revenue and would have done a disservice to the majority of their viewers who would either have to record it or miss it.

    As to "censoring" the content on the net well if the internet companies care so much about showing the footage they can pay for it just as NBC had to.

  • Comment number 8.

    NBC were wrong, they should have screened it Live as well as in Prime Time, if anything that would have increased viewership throughout the day.

    The Inquirer though were correct, they are in the business of selling newspapers and until they can generate equal revenue from their web site they should continue to present news in written for first.

  • Comment number 9.

    colmflynn, in your defense of what NBC did can you please explain why they couldn't show the event live for those that wished to see it as it happened and then show the recorded version during prime time?

    See that there is really the point. Its not that they showed a recording or when the recording was shown, it was that they did everything in their power to prevent people in America from seing it live which goes completly against the responsibility that a broadcaster has when broadcasting such a thing.

    Really when you look at it, it was a business error AND a broadcast error since showing both a live and recorded version means double the airetime and therefore double the revenue from advertisement and more than likely double the viewers.

    To emphasise the point I am making here, if the BBC or ITV had attempted this here, they'd be up in front of a jury from Ofcom within seconds because it is quite clearly a breach of 'civil libaties' - those two words Americans are so fond of throwing around.

  • Comment number 10.

    So, how could the managing editor be such a dodo to think that the people who pay everybody's pay check every month at the newspaper, the newspapers buyers, should be the first who get to read it. What a strange fellow in deed!

    Of course they could cut out that old newsprint stuff altogether and just put it all straight onto the net where for free everybody can read it.

    I sure the staff would work for free to do that. Wouldn't they?

  • Comment number 11.

    In fairness "the footage not available in this territory" is actually a restriction in place by the BBC. I work for an American organisation in London, and all our traffic is routed through American proxies. End result: I cannot access any video or audio streams from my desk at work, even though I pay the blasted licence fee!

  • Comment number 12.


    There is no way you can go to the millions of people in the USA and say that what was done was done for good reasons and convince them. They'd look at you like you're an idiot, and in business the customer is always right.

    NBC is supposed to be there to gives its viewers what they want to see... which in this instance is live coverage and that includes the opening ceremony. They have angered many millions of people in the USA, that is not good business, in fact NBC's reputation for this has taken an enormous hit.

    It was a poor business decision made by suits who are out of touch with reality.

  • Comment number 13.


    The problem with NBC is that they are one of the many media dinosaurs destined for extinction. They are using a 40+ year old business model to try and make money from people in 2008.

    Fair enough they made a lot of money this time but if the keep shafting the consumer eventually the consumers will get fed up and move on. I already have, bit torrent supplies all of my television needs.

    There is absolutely no reason anyone in the world shouldn't be able to watch every event live or later in their own language over the internet.

    The reason we have this farce in the first place is another archaic rule called copyright.

    It is time that

  • Comment number 14.

    Like so many tech articles posted since Tim O'Reilly coined the term in 2004, this one references "Web 2.0" as if it were something tangible--or at least a concept with clear, concise definition. It is not. In 2006, Web founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee sagely observed that "nobody knows what it means":

    In 2007, Michael Wesch put together this video that supposedly "explains what Web 2.0 really is about":

    It is a cool video. But the message is all about XML and how it can be used to separate form and content. There was no mention of CSS and XHTML, but no matter. I was writing XML parsers in the '90s, and XHTML/CSS web design pre-dates "Web 2.0" as well.

    And now in 2008, the most honest thing we can say is that "Web 2.0" means whatever the techno-marketeer (ab)using it wants it to mean. Otherwise, why would intelligent people like Isaac O'Bannon still be writing articles asking "What is Web 2.0?":

    And, why would McKinsey's just-released best-of-breed report entitled "Building the Web 2.0 Enterprise" ...

    ... include no attempt at defining the term other than to list the "Web 2.0 Tools" that comprise or enable it? And even there, the chief ingredient is identified only as "Web Services", adding more mystery to the mix as one ethereal term is offered up to explain another.

    As originated in an website design posting...

    ... "Web 2.0" is like pornography: Nobody has defined it, but you know it when you see it.

    Bruce Arnold, Web Designer, Miami Florida

  • Comment number 15.

    Having watched us coverage online via proxy - - it is far superior to the dullards that frequent our coverage. Yes they cover Americans but as they compete in nearly everything there is a wide spread. And you actually have some excitement and action - not four hours straight of horse dressage after which we celebrate the bronze we won.

    The BBC's coverage has been uniformly shocking. No expert analysis, with replays etc, of any of the swiming/gymnastics, merely two commentators repeating what my eyes can see before cutting away to catch up with another disappointment.

  • Comment number 16.


    Mate you want to try living in China the host nation. These people have absolutely no idea how to cover a sporting event. The other day I was trying to watch the womens synch diving and for the whole competition the camera was on the pundits in the studio with a small screen in the back of the studio that you could try and watch the coverage. Apart from the Chinese competitors of course who got a full screen.

    I am really surprised at how badly Chinese television has covered this event that they have been so excited for for so many years.

  • Comment number 17.

    "Perhaps in-depth investigations, crafted features, and trenchant, well-informed columnists will provide a more compelling reason to keep buying a paper."

    isn't that what a news weekly like the Economist provides? How many well informed, in-depth crafted features can you write per day? I doubt such a "high quality" daily would be sustainable. I think the Metro is more the future of the daily newspaper - light in content but free.


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