How to Solve NBC’s Olympics Tone-Deaf “Millennial Problem” and Simultaneously Monetize Twitter: A User Experience Exercise

We’re already five days past Rio’s closing ceremony, so no doubt this is old news by now, but just in case you haven’t seen it, Bloomberg wrote a very tone-deaf piece on how “NBC’s $12 Billion Olympics Stumbles, Thanks to Millennials.”

As a user experience designer, I have a visceral reaction to this kind of headline. The first thing you learn in UX is: it’s never the user’s fault. If your intended audience isn’t using your technology or service the way you want them to, the only thing you can do is learn what they want and need and change your business model to accommodate them. Do that, or perish. This attitude is out of date, and bonus negative points for hopping on the ‘blame the Millennials’ bandwagon about a decade late.

There have been plenty of rebuttals that speak to what I’m saying, including this piece that outlines first-hand the terrible user experience one “Millennial” had when trying to watch the opening ceremony. But NBC’s attitude especially pained me when I came across Jeff Weber’s post on how ‘A GIF of Aly Raisman’s Floor Routine Got Me Permanently Banned From Twitter.’ So, this headline and Weber’s experience, coupled with NBC’s user-blaming got me thinking about solutions.

A side note about user experience design: People unfamiliar with the field of user experience design may not understand exactly what we do and may have it confused with user interface design, visual design, information architecture or other sub-skills within the practice. On the highest level, user experience designers solve business problems through a better understanding of your users, so we’re trained to embrace problems like those above.

So, back to the issue at hand: Weber’s account also got me thinking about another issue that gets a lot of media coverage in the tech world: How will Twitter effectively monetize?

Both Twitter and NBC made major errors here in how it dealt with issues like Weber’s. Yes, Weber broke a rule, but in the end Twitter completely alienated him from their platform, and undoubtedly in the court of public opinion, the punishment did not fit the crime. In UX design, you embrace, even crave the negative feedback. Your solutions lie between the lines of stories like Weber’s.

Users will find illegal ways to access or steal content — that’s the nature of the Internet and human behavior. The entertainment industry is a good ‘canary in the coal mine’ here. The most successful companies, like Hulu, Netflix, Spotify and Pandora, stopped living in denial and are finding ways to make it so convenient for users that they are willing not to steal and even pay for the superior experience. (I get these models aren’t perfect and there are still issues with artist royalties, but they’ve at least begun to recognize that the industry has embraced this undeniable aspect of user behavior, instead of trying to dictate and punish users for things they’re inclined to do.)

So, Twitter clearly has a monetization problem and NBC’s Olympics have a Millennial problem. Well, what if Twitter provided a content exchange, and allowed users to license and monetize content on Twitter.

Here’s why it works: Content owners can work with Twitter to provide pay-for-content media options and open up a whole new way to share and spread experiences, like the Olympics. Dynamic pricing of content, based on followers, can allow users to pay rates that are in-line with their following and the value they get out of Twitter.

So, like ‘stickers’ or other paid content packs, you can ‘buy’ a gif of Aly Raisman’s baller status floor routine to share with your followers. If you have 1,000 followers, that’ll cost you 99 cents. If you’re a big brand with a Million followers, it’ll cost you a bit more. But it’s worth it. You can stay relevant, participate in the conversation and even remix media to get creative, like Cycle’s Olympic meme, which was apparently viewed 45 Million times.

Remember how much money and time Oreo invested in their Super Bowl coverage? Big brands can and will pay big, and smaller folks will pay less, because it’s worth less for them. Lesser known brands like Cycle can also take smaller risks to invest in the chance of their creative content ‘going viral’ (ugh, I still hate that phrase) but in the end, the Olympics and Twitter are still getting a cut of the action.

You still own your account and your followers, and you can still share licensed content, but for a price. Plus, content creators will turn to Twitter as a way to monetize, driving new value for users as well. And Twitter serves as the marketplace, opening up new revenue opportunities for content creators.

Licensing content like this can also help the ongoing problem of people stealing the content of up and coming photographers, creators and comedians, like the infamous joke thief the “Fat Jew.” If someone like him wants to keep ‘creating content’ based off original content, they can credit the original creator or pay a fee to license it, of which Twitter of course takes a cut.

I know I haven’t worked out all the kinks here. What about issues with retweeting? What about conflicts in ownership? Businesses are complicated and these things can be difficult to implement. This post is really just an exercise in problem solving or the trendier ‘design thinking’ and is meant to show that good user experience designers should take a long, hard look at these negative experiences as opportunities and use them to find solutions.

This idea is meant to open up doors, conversations and possibilities. Maybe an approach like this can also address the rampant abuse on Twitter. What about licensing hate speech so users with fewer followers have to pay to use derogatory language? Charged triple if your profile picture isn’t a photo of a human? Charged ten times as much if you’re still an egg? Just kidding. Sort of.