Set aside the money NBC minted broadcasting the Olympics to American TV sets. The network is hinting it wants to give internet video a bigger role in its coverage — and advertising sales — around the 2012 games in London, where the time differential makes it awkward to broadcast live events in the U.S. So how did NBC do Webcasting the 2008 games? The network bragged to the Times about doubling its 2004-2006 Olympic traffic. But somehow Yahoo, with none of NBC's exclusive footage or capital outlay, managed to draw even more people to its Olympics section than NBC, according to Nielsen. And NBC made a pathetic $6 million in video ad revenue from the Olympics — a quarter of what CBS Sports made streaming a college basketball tournament earlier this year. The problem? NBC saved all the good stuff for television. Writes the Journal:

NBC limited its potential for ad revenue in a number of ways, industry analysts say. To provide a measure of exclusivity for its TV advertisers, it chose not to make available live video for some of the Games' highest-profile events. The network failed to distribute its videos widely on other sites, which would have boosted its audience.

In contrast, here's what Yahoo did, via the Times:

On Wednesday, for example, Yahoo's Olympics blog linked to two Web sites that were showing BBC video of Usain Bolt's 200-meter race, hours before NBC showed it on television and placed it on its Web site. Yahoo, which added a gold medal to its logo for the duration of the Games, used the power of its popular home page to push visitors to a special mini-site devoted to the Olympics.

Though the Olympics have been hailed as evidence of the enduring power of broadcast television — could a cable network have penetrated so many homes? — they may also go down in history as a textbook case of how to blow a huge opportunity online.