NBC is launching two free Olympic mobile apps. They’re available only to pay-TV subscribers who have MSNBC and CNBC as part of their service. Consumers can watch events and look up athlete profiles on iPads, iPhones, and some Android devices. Oh, and there’ll be advertising too. OK, no surprise. You expected that with a free app.

NBC says it’s the first time all 3,500 hours of Olympic events will be available on smartphone and tablet computers. But given the time-line of smartphone and tablet invention, introduction, and adoption, that’s not quite the mind-boggling astonishing statement it must have sounded like when they wrote the press release, but, hey, it’s the Olympics and it’s apps!

Production and adoption chronology notwithstanding, it turns out that 50% of U.S. mobile subscribers now have a smartphone. Oh, and not totally unconnected, accelerated smartphone adoption has been accompanied with the acceleration of app downloading, with that acceleration the average number of apps per smartphone has jumped 66%, from an average of 30 up to 49. Most, not surprisingly, have ended up on iPhones, followed by Android devices, and a much, much smaller number of Blackberry devices. Yeah, no surprise there either. No surprise too, that there are more studies out there about the “top apps,” all based on “time-spent.”

Time-spent is one of those interesting factoids that are easy to read, but – when it comes to incorporating advertising on apps (or any other digital platform) – doesn’t have a lot to do with real engagement. The fact is that when it comes to real engagement, digital works very differently category-to-category, so the most challenging issue currently facing brands is connecting their brand strategy to digital technology.

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