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April 19, 2014

Loving the Olympics. NBC... not so much

by Brett Love, posted Aug 12th 2008 10:02AM
Olympics Over the past few days it has once again become quite apparent that they have yet to invent an Olympic sport that I won't watch. Really. Fencing, Women's Air Rifle, Badminton... I'll watch it all. I spent my weekend traveling between the various channels, internet streams, and the occasional visit to my Slingbox in Boston. As far as the games go, they're as good as they've ever been. The coverage from NBC though, unfortunately, is still not nearly what it should be.

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.

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4beard

The whole olympics has been awful for us in California. I think the way NBC has shown the Olympics has been sub standard at best. I mean gymnatstics at 11-12 pm at night?? And, what was with the 2 1/2 hour marathon on at prime time Saturday night?? I am completely uninterested in the Olympics because of NBC and their broadcasts. They need to do a much better job!

August 21 2008 at 6:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jonathan

I loved this article, right on target, except you missed one important thing:
I thought that there were 8 guys starting each swimming race...why showing only one everytime? where are the others (no wait, WHO are the others?)

I thought the podium has got room for 3 people, why only showing one face?

Why in the world, when you have 4 teams competing in Gymnastics, NBC only gets to show us one (and a half?)

Why in the world are we not seeing the "other" basketball games?
You know what? I thought the british were chauvinists when living in London, with Lewis Hamilton as their new sensation...I thought the french were the biggest chauvinists after living there, having to watch their pathetic drama about each athlete they have...

I realize that living in europe i got to watch MUCH MORE than anything I'd get here in the US...if I know anything about foreign athletes, believe me I didn't learn it watching NBC.

That's where the US is as far as culture goes: the rest of the world really REALLY doesn't matter one bit. Then we wonder why so many americans can't place London on a world map.

The NBC coverage is pathetic...the drama added to every athlete's life story is pathetic... Costas is pathetic when he wets himself everytime Phelps prepares for a race.

Like you i get to watch the Games on the net, and turn the telly on for Animal Planet. Costas can **** my ***.(And I don't give a flying F about beach volley, REALLY)

August 13 2008 at 5:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kevin

"I just had a look at the schedule for the 200M men's butterfly final and it is scheduled to start at 10:21 am Beijing time, which translates to 7:21 pm on the west coast. Sounds like a perfect time for people to be watching television and seeing Phelps going for for his fourth gold medal. Instead it will be delayed by 3 hours, I will already know the result"

Was it delayed? I saw it right around 10:20 in Philly.

August 13 2008 at 3:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cody

On Friday night (Saturday morning) I got really into the womens' individual saber matches, what with all three members of Team USA making the semifinals. Before I went to bed, one of the announcers said that the semifinal and final matches would be shown at 3PM ET Saturday. "Great", I thought, "that should be really fun to watch and see who wins!" But then around noon on Saturday I was flipping to either USA or MSNBC and they were already showing the medal ceremony! Needless to say, I was pretty pissed that they ruined that for me.

August 13 2008 at 11:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mimi

I adore the Olympics - I'll admit it. I am one of those crazy people that can't go anywhere or do anything when there is a major score hanging in the balance. I'm constantly checking my phone for updates and results, glued to my computer, etc. So what do I think of NBC's coverage? It sucks. I've had to fill my DVR with Olypmic coverage from NBC, USA, MSNBC so that I can filter out all the ridiculous commercial breaks and the "heartwarming" stories covered by Mary Carillo. Seriously - I need to know about the 7'9" man and his wife??? WTF? I want sports coverage! If i want a travelogue then I would turn on the Travel Channel.

The commentators themselves have me more aggravated then anything else. For something like the Olypmics, is it too much to ask that your team reporting on the games have some type of intelligence?? I know that most commentator pairs are made up of former Olympic athletes and at least one general sports announcer type. It would be nice if they were able to make intelligent comments on the games or the athletes and not crack so many jokes or talk about the stuff they don't know or understand. Case in point - Walsh's shoulder tape - I can't tell you how many times I heard the reporters talking about her "new tattoo", how her shoulder looked like someone didn't know what they were doing, or how she was just wearing the tape to ease her mind or intimidate the other teams. Just ridiculous.

So, I wholeheartedly agree with all of Brett's comments and I'm so glad that someone finally voiced them and gave us a place to voice right back!

August 13 2008 at 9:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Carson

Fire Andrea Joyce. Not once did she tell Sacramone that we are all proud of them. There is no shame in silver.

August 13 2008 at 1:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Aberdeen

Lord, do I miss Eurosport. Alas, I don't live close enough to the Canadian border to get CBC...and I only have dialup, so I'm stuck with NBC. Bah.

August 12 2008 at 9:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Aberdeen's comment
StillBash

You know it's 2008 and Eurosport has 2 channels and they don't broadcast in 16:9 and the transfer rate is abysmal. It's as if you're watching an internet feed on TV. On BOTH channels. If they don't get something done quick then the only people who will miss them are those who have dialup here in europe (like you in the US) - and that number is getting smaller by the day.

I just talked to my brother and wondered about international sports. Those which aren't shown on the regular TV channels. Like our german table tennis star Timo Boll who's much more known in China than in germany because it's their national sport. Why am I not able to watch him play on regular TV in germany when he's a star to almost 1.3 billion people?

Just turn on your computer, find a CCTV feed and you'll be able to watch him. Zattoo, Joost... P2P TV sharing - the people demand it and they will get it - if not via the old ways then via new ones.

August 14 2008 at 10:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
robert

I think it's kinda funny that you mention Psyche. I was actually looking for a rerun time the saturday following the show but got nothing but olympics all day. Maybe it's different here on the east coast?

August 12 2008 at 7:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
A Gould

Seems like a simple solution to me - show as much as possible live (even if it's the middle of the night), then replay the good parts during prime time. Time-shifting only works if there's no other way to catch the event - otherwise it's just old news.

August 12 2008 at 6:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Benjh

Thank you for saying it so well. I encourage everyone who agrees to post, even a short comment, so NBC officials (no doubt reading this) know how many people feel this way.
It's got to stop.

August 12 2008 at 4:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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