The Digital Skeptic: Olympic Flame Lights Way to Web Profits

Jonathan Blum

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- The next time Tim Berners-Lee invents the Internet, he might want to think of a series of interlocking rings -- maybe like those of the Olympics -- rather than the wide open, worldwide wreck he made the first time around.

We all know Berners-Lee. He is the supposed "founder" of the Internet. (Someone has to take the bullet, right?) And he was the cherry on top of the opening ceremony honoring all things British at this year's London Olympic games.

In case you missed it, he was the geek at the computer typing a four-word tweet: "This is for everyone."

For my money, Berners-Lee's Olympic tweet was a thunderbolt of business optimism -- and a legit path to profits online.

Here's why.

Bringing order to the global village

Think about what happened when Berners-Lee typed those words. First, he was putting the crown on one of the most valuable media moments in recent memory. Ad time ain't cheap when 80-some-odd-thousand people are watching live in London, according to Yahoo! Sports(:YHOO) and another 40-some-odd-million from the U.S, according to widely quoted Nielsen figures. Guesstimates say 1 billion viewers tuned in worldwide.

What made the moment so valuable? Certainly not the disorganized, crowdsourced digital domain. Berners-Lee's microblog was one of -- oh my heavens -- some 6.3 million tweets typed during the opening ceremony, according to TweetReach. Without the spectacle, his was as worthless as the rest.

Facebook(:FB), too, was no profit medalist. It ran, what, a running timeline of images and events of the opening ceremony. I didn't care. Did you?

In truth, it was carefully orchestrated interlocking system of highly organized media rights, international viewing windows and controlled media technologies that made this ceremony money.

The stiff upper British lip of structure put food on the table for this year's games. gets the gold

The most interesting example of order trumping chaos to investors -- and the theme is everywhere in these games of you look -- is clearly Comcast's(:CMCSA) NBC bragged about the depth of online video coverage -- all 32 sports, all 302 events and all streamed live was the oft-hyped boast. But was the site open to all, a la the rest of the dysfunctional Web?

Absolutely not. Every bit of content in this digital space was controlled, ordered and consciously monetized.

A strictly monitored ID from a paying multichannel TV account is needed to see the full content feeds, protecting Comcast's $1.2 billion bet on the Olympic video rights and opening the service to a fascinating series of clever content windows that work like theatrical and DVD releases in miniature.

Popular premium events such as gymnastics and swimming are streamed live but are not available for full replay until after the fully produced, high-ad-revenue generating TV content from those events run in lucrative prime time slots, usually later that night.

Lesser events, such as sailing or judo, are offered live and in on-demand replay. But ad insertion is heavy by Internet standards: two commercials every three or four minutes. And they were the same top-flight, top-quality spots from Visa(:V), Subway and Kellogg's(:K) I was seeing on NBC.

And true top-tier moments -- including, you guessed it, Berners-Lee's opening ceremony tweet -- are not available on the Web at all, at least as far as I can find. My hunch is these will be saved for a Best of the Olympics replay on TV and probably a DVD release.

Clearly, NBC, the IOC and the London organizers all got paid.

The approach has drawn loads of criticism, but try for yourself. The commercial load is reasonable, the overall experience is compelling and what a joyous experience it is to consume information that is actually -- gasp! -- valuable enough to warrant your money and time.

The Web's five-ring future

The Olympics has a history of giving us a glimpse of the future: instant replay to the use of multichannel cable to now how to manage new media. What the London organizers, the International Olympic Committee and NBC have shown is that by insisting its customers are just that -- paying customers -- and not a media in and of themselves, they make content that is content and consumers that are consumers.

This is the template for the Web's future.

The sooner Berners-Lee can get started on the more-better, paying Web, the better. I am oh-so-tired of the stupid one we are using now.