NEW YORK: A quarter of US mobile users will own a smartphone by the time of the Winter Olympics in mid-February next year, Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development at NBC Universal, has predicted.

Nielsen has previously estimated that smartphone penetration in the US stood at around 17% in September 2009, compared with figures of 23% in Spain, and a high of 28% in Italy.

Speaking at the Advertising Research Foundation's 360 Measurement Day Workshop – covered in more detail here – about NBCU's cross-platform media plans for the 2010 Winter Olympics, Wurtzel said this figure was growing rapidly.

Some 215 million Americans watched the organisation's broadcast coverage of the Summer Games in Beijing in 2008, with a substantial audience also streaming content via mobile and the web.

It found that the typical Olympic enthusiast was a 23-year-old woman from Miami, utilising new media to keep up-to-date before and during work, and tuning in to NBC from 8pm until after midnight.

The organisation will attempt to apply the learnings from this event to its forthcoming Winter equivalent in Vancouver, when it hopes to track viewer data across “three screens.”

"We'll use research to synchronize use of multiple platforms," explained Wurtzel, covering everything from the Peacock Network to

Moreover, it will pay increased attention to out-of-home consumption habits, as well as material on channels not owned or operated by NBCU.

Internet indices will offer usage analysis of over 100 additional websites, while a panel of 39 people in six markets will be sorted into "Olympic Fans" and "Tech-Forward" groupings.

One area of significant behavioural change could be in the frequency of mobile use, facilitated by the heightened uptake of touchphones, Wurtzel argued.

During the 2008 Olympics, mobile "was a lousy platform – not a good consumer experience at all. But iPhones mean a completely different experience," he said.

Overall, NBCU's research president suggested it will be able to create a "Day in the Olympic Life" in terms of popular media preferences, including the extent television fuels online use.

"TV makes online get used. Online puts people back to TV. It's a wonderful virtuous circle if you do it right," Wurtzel argued.

The company will also partner with the Keller Fay Group to measure online and offline and word-of-mouth, and with Nielsen and IAG to assess the impact of commercial communications tied to the Games.

"We'll be using the material to explain behavioral changes, with everything from advertising impact, to driving traffic to advertiser sites, to online and offline purchases," Wurtzel reported.

Warc subscribers can read more details about Alan Wurtzel's presentation at the Advertising Research Foundation's 360 Measurement Day Workshop by clicking here.

Data sourced from Warc