Loving the Olympics. NBC... not so much
I'll admit, they got me. When I read about the plans for more live coverage, and how they were going to make use of all the other NBC/Universal properties, I thought this would be the year, the Olympic nirvana that always could have been. It's really not panning out that way. More than anything else, the word that keeps coming to mind for the NBC coverage is annoying. After the jump, some notes for NBC.
The Olympics are not a damn reality show.
Without question, my biggest complaint is the ridiculous scheduling. The way they are tape delaying certain events is bad enough. Sunday night's prelims for Women's gymnastics, for instance... I watched that Saturday night, thanks to my friends in the great white north, CBC.
Worse than that though is the new and improved NBC definition of "LIVE." It reared its head for me Saturday night as I was watching the swimming finals, again from Canada. During a commercial I switched over to NBC to find Bob Costas standing in Tienanmen Square, with a big LIVE graphic by his head. He was telling me that in just a couple of hours the swimming finals would begin, live. Now, I know those Canadians are smart, but last I checked they hadn't cracked the space/time continuum. Of course, I was being tape delayed.
The really nasty part of this is the explanation from NBC.Asked about playing delayed content with a LIVE tag, a spokesperson for the network points out that twice every hour there is a time stamp that shows the video was recorded earlier. The hell? It gets better.
"The audience makeup of the Olympics is very much like that of American Idol and Dancing with the Stars which have 'live' season finales presented in much the same way," an NBC Sports spokesperson says. "You assume there's a large amount of intelligence in the viewing audience, so when they see those twice-an-hour time stamps they'll understand what is being presented."
First, let's all pause and laugh at the fact that this spokesperson referenced shows from ABC and Fox. Comparing the Olympics to Biggest Loser and Baby Borrowers just wouldn't carry the same idea, I suppose. More to the point, what kind of logic is that? Flashing a time stamp twice an hour is supposed to be a better solution than just not running the LIVE graphic? Or, you know, running sports live. I'll agree on one thing. Yes, Mr. NBC spokesperson, your viewers are smart. Smart enough to understand that you are screwing up the games with the scheduling.
Now, the three hour tape delay might not be a big deal for those of you on the east coast that don't share my geographical challenge. I can't imagine you're into 24 hour delays in things like gymnastics though. The reason it really kills the whole thing for those of us out west is because of the incredible access we now have to information. Our pal Wil Wheaton put it better than I could on Twitter.
"Dear NBC: thanks to your fucking tape delay on the west coast, I have to avoid the Internets starting at 4pm every day. I hate you to death."
Seriously. Most days I'm plugged in to the internet from about 6AM to midnight. I have to go out of my way to avoid things like Michael Phelps winning another gold. Maybe the people running things at NBC just don't understand that while not the only attraction to watching sports, finding out who wins is one of the big ones. Once you know, the value of the programming drops dramatically.
I take that back. There isn't a "maybe" about it. They really don't get it. As an example, over the weekend I was watching the USA vs China basketball game, this time on NBC. As the second quarter wound down I flipped over to see what was happening on Universal HD. I was greeted by Matt Vasgersian, who casually tossed out that the US had beaten China by a score of... Good grief. It was the second quarter.
For me, it all comes down to how important the various sports are perceived to be. Is there any doubt in anyone's mind that the Super Bowl would never get tape delayed? World Series? Stanley Cup? Daytona 500? I submit that while they might not be up to the Super Bowl, things like Michael Phelps making his run, Gymnastics, and the Mens Basketball team have spots in that list. To delay them does a disservice to the sport, and the viewers. Sure, women's 10 meter air pistol is probably a candidate to be delayed, as are many other odd and obscure sports. But the biggies have to run live. Of course, those other obscure sports bring us to another point.
I'm not going to watch Psych four times over the weekend.
There is a lot of interesting competition to be found in all of those sports that most of us will only make time for every four years. And the NBC/Universal behemoth has the channels to make a ton of them available. Available on TV I mean, not just streaming on the web. I really don't understand why all of those outlets are not being used. Is there really that much to be gained by showing us the new Psych over and over, or more House reruns, or Billy Ray Cyrus and Bill Engvall in that bass fishing movie? I kept checking USA all weekend just to see what kind of crazy entertainment had beaten out the Olympic games. Again and again I was left shaking my head.
Not everything has to be a touching story with orchestral swells.
One rule of thumb that governs my Olympic viewing goes like this: If Bob Costas welcomes Jimmy Roberts or Mary Carillo to the set, it's time to change the channel. There will be no Olympics coming any time soon as it's clearly time for a touching story of sacrifice, redemption, striving, etc. etc. I'm sure there are many people with many great stories, but we don't need to see them all. If you want to relegate something to the web, there ya go. More competition is a good thing. Let the drama play out on the field, don't manufacture it.
With all those channels, and the internet, you're being beat by my one Canadian station.
It's been this way for years here in Seattle. Without fail, despite NBC being the network for the home team, and now having all of the other channels on board helping out, I still watch more of my Olympics on the one Canadian channel I get. It gives me a warped sense of Olympic memories. Nagano, I think of Sandra Schmirler leading Canada to the gold in women's curling. Salt Lake City is Catriona Le May Doan defending her gold medal in the 500m. And on and on. The Canadians get it, and they also do a pretty nice job of keeping track of the big stories with the USA.
Despite all that, I'm still going to watch.
I suppose it speaks to just how great the Olympics are. Even with NBC bungling things at every turn (CGI fireworks?), I'll still tune in when they manage to get around to showing those events I'm looking for. It makes me feel like a disgruntled Star Wars fan. Those who despite hating Episode One, and Episode Two, were right back in line for Episode Three. Much like Lucas, no matter how hard NBC works to screw it up, there are those of us that are so invested in the product that we'll put up with it. I just can't help it. Things like the world record setting win for the men in the relay, the US vs Japan volleyball match, and the Canadian men's eight in rowing always keep me coming back for more.