#NBCfail? If everyone hates the Olympics, why do we watch?

Some of these people are live. Others are on tape. (AP photo)

Some of these smiling Americans are coming to us live. Others are on tape. (AP photo)

It does seem silly: A sporting event occurs before noon (our time) and the American television rights-holder waits until 10 p.m. (again, our time) to air it. If you prefer not to know who won before actually seeing who wins — my lovely wife is such a person — you have to cover one eye before clicking on the Internet.

Also silly is the Internet-fueled outcry toward NBC, which holds the American broadcasting rights to these Olympics. (Twitter hashtag: #NBCfail.) At a time when everything is available via the aforementioned click, why can’t the network give us everything as it happens?

Allow me to introduce myself: I have come to dislike TV immensely. I watch less of it than anyone I know. When duty calls and I’m compelled to monitor a sporting event, I often mute the sound. (Twitter hashtag: #McCarverEffect.) Ordinarily I’m greatly amused by any hint of TV-bashing, but here I have to say …

I almost — “almost,” I said — feel sorry for NBC.

The Peacock didn’t pay $1.2 billion for the rights to the London Games because synchronized swimming is the world’s most compelling viewing. NBC wanted the Olympics because they, spread over 17 days, offer an unrivaled entertainment platform. We might hate the way NBC presents them for mass consumption, but we’re still watching. (For all the backlash, ratings have been strong.)

The problem is that the Olympics are technically sporting events, and we’ve been conditioned to see all sporting events live on some channel. (Twitter hashtag: #ESPNeffect.) But it would be terrible business for NBC to air its coverage of the gymnastics finals or a Michael Phelps race as they happen for a basic television reason: They’re happening five hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time, which means they’re happening in daylight. More people, duh, watch TV at night.

To be fair, NBC does stream events live in bare-bones form on its Web site. (Also to be fair, registration is laborious.) Given that the folks griping on Twitter are by definition connected to some form of the Internet, shouldn’t that availability placate them? Apparently not. Apparently we not only want to have our cake but to have it fed to us, too.

Other criticisms of NBC: That nearly all its coverage is Americanized, that there are too many sob-story angles and that Ryan Seacrest is involved. But those complaints — OK, not the Ryan Seacrest one — have been levied against the Olympics airer long before NBC bought the rights. The “Up Close and Personal” touch was Roone Arledge’s, and back in the ’70s Arledge and ABC hit upon the formula that NBC follows still: We watch the Olympics not because we care about these events but because we’ve been conditioned (by TV) to care about the contestants.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Olympics were the first Reality TV. (Kelly Clarkson, meet Mary Lou Retton. Simon Cowell, meet Dick Button.) It didn’t matter if we saw the events live — for a time, TV took to calling its coverage “plausibly live” — as long as we saw them. The 1994 Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding skate-off in Lillehammer wasn’t shown live on CBS, but it drew a Super Bowl-like Nielsen number.

The Internet now enables everyone in the world to know who won within seconds of the actual winning, and that makes some difference. Just not enough of one to force NBC change what it’s doing. Saving the big American moments for prime time enables the network to point to its Nielsens and charge the highest ad rates, and it also affords the 17-night opportunity to promo the upcoming NBC fall schedule to death. It’s the circle of TV life, and it has ever been thus.

We forget, but one of the greatest American Olympic moments was staged in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Feb. 22, 1980, and it was not aired live in this country. (Though it was in Canada. Go figure.) The U.S.-USSR hockey game started at 5 p.m. ABC didn’t show the game until prime time. Al Michaels delivered his immortal line as it happened, but we didn’t actually hear it for another few hours.

Twitter hashtag: #DoYouBelieveInTapeDelayedMiracles?Yes!!!!

By Mark Bradley

93 comments Add your comment

Yawn

August 1st, 2012
9:47 pm

Who’s watching?

The “Olympic Committee Mafia” clamps down with over-reaching, unreasonable control that eviscerates the enjoyment from every angle. Only THEIR pockets are lined, and then they skip the country under diplomatic immunity after committing a variety of crimes from shop lifting, hit-and-run auto accident injuries, and etc.

Ditch the Olympic Dictator Committee and bring the fun back for everyone from vendors, athletes, spectators, and the host city residents.

In each case, the Opening and Closing Ceremonies are hardly awesome via TV broadcast. It would be wise to pare them down in time, and theatrics. All of the song, dance, and acting are a huge miss in entertainment, plus the ceremonies are dreadfully long.

Frustrated Viewer

August 1st, 2012
10:30 pm

Because we have no bleeping choice in the matter, you moron. That’s why. Ratings do NOT equal quality. Get that through your thick skull.

Sam Hoffman

August 1st, 2012
11:52 pm

Don’t hate the Olympics. But don’t agree how NBC is handling them. I’ve watched a lot things online but the app is unreliable with adds popping up every 4 minutes and the graphics aren’t as easy to follow as NBC. I think their commentators on NBC do a great job and their primetime coverage is a nice package, by still why not just show a 2 minute swimming race live? I understand the idea of ratings in primetime and ad revenue but if NBC just came out and said that instead of telling people they are wrong for wanting to see them live I would respect their decision more.

Not Watching

August 1st, 2012
11:55 pm

This whole every-other-year Olympics crap is getting old. I’ll watch every four years thank you very much. It isn’t special anymore. And with what NBC seems to be doing to them, it doesn’t look like I’m missing much at all.

AtlantaDude

August 2nd, 2012
6:29 am

Every time I turn on the TV at 8pm, NBC is showing SYNCHRONIZED DIVING! Does anyone care about that? They won’t show anything of consequence until 9 or 10pm. So, I not only have to wait until the evening to see anything worthwile, I have to wait until the people in Los Angeles get home from work.

Also, when did Bob Costas get his eyes done? He looks like Al Pacino now. Dude, quit laser glaring at me.

Let's Go

August 2nd, 2012
7:25 am

I don’t watch the Olympics and haven’t since the USA lowered its standards and went along with most of the world and began to let professional athletes participate. At this point this is nothing more than a 4 year get-to-together of the world’s highest paid professionals so they can massage their egos a little bit and also pad their wallets. NBC wants it this way and any American that watches probably does to because it’s not about seeing another miracle on ice it’s now about instant gratification and making sure the USA wins the most medals than any other country. Why do you think snowboarding was added to the Winter games, to help pad the medal count for the USA and if our count drops in the Summer games you better believe skateboarding is just around the corner. This might have started with professional basketball players but now there are professional Tennis, Hockey, Soccer and next time in Rio there will be Golf. True Amateur Athletes don’t have endorsement deals so anyone that thinks Michael Phelps is an amateur swimmer is living in a dream world.

Lowering our integrity and standards for Olympic commercialism just because the others are doing it didn’t make us a winner because the true sprit of the Olympics should be about participation not how many medals you win.

NBC Sucks

August 2nd, 2012
7:34 am

Enough said.

Getaway

August 2nd, 2012
7:48 am

Wow, Let’s Go, you sure know a lot about something that you haven’t watched 20 years…

Atticus

August 2nd, 2012
8:08 am

Don’t watch a minute of them. They are irrelevant. Overhyped and mostly sports nobody ever follows. Incredible athletes no doubt but the mystery of the Olympics was lost after 1984. No cold war, 3 channels to 300 so we now see all the cultures that used to be a mystery, pro athletes included….its just not what it used to be, sorry. But then again I don’t watch Dancing with the Stars or American Idol like all the other people do too.

matty b

August 2nd, 2012
8:12 am

I don’t mind i want to see it either way and ok im over them posting results before they happen but quit with the spoiler alert thing it just gets on my nerves. It’s obvious why nbc does what it does and if u paid what they paid for the games i can’t blame them so it is what it is

Rodster

August 2nd, 2012
8:30 am

We don’t hate the Olympics. We don’t like the stupid tape delay to “primetime”. I would honestly make time to watch more of the Olympics if it all fit into the regular day for me.

Let's Go

August 2nd, 2012
8:32 am

Getaway

In today’s media now world you don’t have to watch something to know whats going on, you just have to pay attention.

BubbaDaBaller

August 2nd, 2012
8:35 am

When does Football (College & Pro, not sissy Euro Game) start? Wake me up then…

The Once Proud Peacock

August 2nd, 2012
8:36 am

I agree with Let’s Go. I can’t stomach the Olympics. Years ago when it was a competition for amateur athletes it was much more enthralling. But Kobe Bryant dunking over some poor sap from Latvia? Get real. NTM all the tear jerking “human interest” crap. But in today’s world, if it smells, it sells, as evidenced by the popularity of American Idol. But I can accept that there are too few voices in the intellectual wilderness that is America today to make a difference, so I’ll just read a book and hope like hell China wins more medals than Team USA.

JM

August 2nd, 2012
8:42 am

“The Olympics do not have the same appeal to me that it had when all athletes were amateurs”

This is such a dumb argument. “I don’t like the games now because the competition is better.” Really? And it’s not like they were even amateurs back then. (e.g. the USSR’s hockey team “working” in the military)

Grantland Rice

August 2nd, 2012
8:43 am

Good article MB. Not trying to pile on NBC, but Bob Costas is terrible and entirely too patronizing.

Taxi Smith

August 2nd, 2012
9:03 am

My wife and I have really enjoyed these Olympics. I don’t know what all the fuss is about NBC.

Paddy

August 2nd, 2012
9:06 am

I’m not upset about the coverage. After reading all this, I wonder what I am missing. Sounds like I should be mad as hell, but I’m not. I may not be well

GoVawls

August 2nd, 2012
9:17 am

MB, just sick of Costas. Tries to make every freakin sentence profound. Get over it Bob, it’s sports.

IlliniBrave

August 2nd, 2012
9:18 am

All of the silly snobby high-handed comments about watching BBC or CBC or some other foreign network cracks me up. And my Al-Jazeera comment was meant to be sarcasm and yet was taken seriously. For some reason folks love to have these idyllica notions that things are sooooo much better in other countries. Really? Than how is it that when I travel overseas I get about five channels, all or most of which are government subsidized, and they are all showing tons of American programming? Gawd folks need to extract their heads from their rear ends and realize that we reap tremendous benefits from capitalism and a market economy, and that there are some annoying inconveniences (like commercials and tape delays) that go with those benefits.

Native ATL Boy

August 2nd, 2012
9:23 am

I have always hated NBC.

I only started hating the Olympics in 1996.

(Thanks, Crooked ATL Politicians.)

wammo kablamo

August 2nd, 2012
9:26 am

all the events except basketball suck. unless you count watching a sport just to see young girls parade around in tight skimpy clothing. thats what the olympics are good for. now bring on some good old fashion american football!!!

Paddy

August 2nd, 2012
10:11 am

wammo……basketball sucks too. More boxing and wrestling then bring on the track & field events.

Bobby

August 2nd, 2012
10:12 am

It’s the summer, what else are we going to watch? Reruns?

Doris

August 2nd, 2012
10:13 am

I think its fine not to have the stuff live and to make a prime time program but I think they should have broadcasts for each time zone meaning that there is no reason the EST zone needs to have to stay up past 11:30 for the biggest events. They know that that gymnastics meet was going to be huge viewership so it should end right at 11:00 in my opinion. Diving does not need to be in prime time unless there is an american contender. Tuesday night there was diving in prime time with no american. Makes no sense.

one problem is the website has no events that were gonna be prime time until the next day if you miss them live. I can’t watch at work.

Ken Stallings

August 2nd, 2012
10:16 am

We watch because the games themselves are very compelling. We would watch more if the coverage got the so called media “stars” out of the limelight and let the athletes star in their own show!

Also, NBC’s bully tactics using Facebook as their attack dog to ban the account of a newspaper reporter for simply telling the truth and posting a corporate email address was the final straw. NBC is employing the strong-arm tactics of facists leaders. It stinks! That has further eroded their regard.

LawDawg

August 2nd, 2012
10:20 am

This completely misses the point. We want to watch the Olympics, NBC has a monopoly, so we have to watch on NBC. If their broadcasting sucks, you still have to watch it because they are the only game in town. That does not mean you cannot complain about the fact that all of their announcers seem brain-damaged and approximately 50% of the four-hour prime time block is annoying human interest coverage, rather than sport.

Also, it seems clear that the commentary is all after the fact.

LawDawg

August 2nd, 2012
10:20 am

Last point: The commentary over the Opening Ceremonies is possibly the worst thing that has ever appeared on TV.

watcher

August 2nd, 2012
10:23 am

And their online live viewing? I’d rather get multiple root canals than go through that ridiculous struggle.

Bingo. NBC is the only game in town, and their online/youtube streaming is pitiful. We want High Definition. If they would simply put the most exciting stuff (not boxing and field hockey) on their affiliate stations live, I would DVR THAT broadcast and watch it rather than the nighttime drivel. As it is, I start DVRing at 8 pm, start watching at 9:00pm or 9:30, and cut the commercials. I often know who wins/loses, but I want to see it in HD.

norman

August 2nd, 2012
11:06 am

Come on Bradley The reason you mute the tv is because you don’t want your family to know that you are watching women’s volleyball. By the way, how are the US volley team doing?

neil marlowe

August 2nd, 2012
11:18 am

please tell me what the appeal is for ryan seacrest. what a loser!!

neil marlowe

August 2nd, 2012
11:20 am

re “the once proud peacock” – what an idiot! ! ! !

TRUTH

August 2nd, 2012
11:56 am

We don’t have cable due to economy, but we do get every other network in our area from antenna. So we don’t get to see NBC. And because NBC has exclusive rights, no one else can broadcast it. That sux. But, I can watch it on Telemundo (oops, I let the cat out the bag…). It’s in Spanish, don’t speak Spanish at all, but understand excitement from watching the LIVE competition!!

SO NBC GETS A HUGE FAIL!!

Delbert D.

August 2nd, 2012
11:57 am

The only snippets from these olympics I’ve seen is when one of the news channels highlights something.

Appalachia Brave

August 2nd, 2012
12:02 pm

The Olympics are not as bad as NASCAR…Is there anything more boring than watching cars follow each other around the track! And NASCAR wonders why no one is showing up to the races! B-O-R-I-N-G! GO USA!

matt

August 2nd, 2012
12:38 pm

I don’t really have a problem with the time difference because I have a job (Dish). I get to watch at night, but have to drown out all the tickers and Social Media outlets throughout the day. I also like that my Hopper DVR has over 2,000 hours of space to record on. I can set my DVR from anywhere, and when I get home it’s ready and waiting for me. Plus, with Prime Time Anytime I can also set my TV to automatically FOX, CBS and ABC alongside NBC, so everyone in the family gets to watch their regular shows on other TVs.

Marvin Mangrum

August 2nd, 2012
1:00 pm

Tell you what Mark, enjoy, and your cronies too, as for me, no thanks, no to the other crap on nbc. Saw the photo of “Of course Im taller than 5′1″, I just like sitting on a 6 foot tall stool” Bob Costas. I would not watch nbc if they paid me, and I got an idea thats the way it is. I dont care! Its kinda like taxing the gold medal for $9 grand. What a great democrat idea, its kinda like the other ten million they have had. Sorry Olympiad, but enuf tis enuf.

ATL 1996, Ho!

August 2nd, 2012
1:32 pm

Costas talked over 96% of the Atlanta Olympics Opening Ceremonies too. Maybe he thinks talking will make him taller?

Matt B

August 3rd, 2012
12:27 pm

How about this: instead of airing the end of the epic third set of the Del Potro-Federer tennis match live at Noon EST, which Federer won 21-19 by the way, NBC decided to air a HEAT of a woman’s track event that had a USA sprinter in it. By the way, the heat was not live, it happened earlier. This is what’s so frustrating.

pissed off

August 3rd, 2012
11:51 pm

This is the garbage nbc is doing. Prime time broadcast start at 8pm, and what do they show for the first 30 minutes? Some emotional fluff piece about the 1996 Olympic gymnastic team and commercials. Then they show 2 minutes of women’s volleyball, followed by 4 minutes of commercials, 2 minutes of volleyball, then 3 minutes of commercials, then 4 minutes more manufacturing drama talking about Michael Phelps, then guess what….more commercials. It is now 8:45pm and they have managed to show a total of 4 lousy minutes of any sporting event. I know because I timed it. Do you see why people are angry at nbc? They show as little of the sporting event as possible and more emotional profiling of athletes. I swear Oprah Winfrey is directing things behind the scenes.

ECUpa

August 5th, 2012
1:26 pm

Don’t think these games are getting tedious for all of us? Did Federer quit or even show up? Garbage. Glad Murray won, but Serena would have been better competition than Federer today.

UV

August 6th, 2012
3:00 am

I was a bit disappointed that NBC somehow failed to get the Kardashians involved in the Olympic Games. Isn’t it a perfect world when celebrity gossip takes away from true sporting achievement. Get real NBC.

Cynthia

August 6th, 2012
6:09 pm

Wow, I am reading an article that are referencing events happening pre-social media days and yet use those references as a justification of why NBC continues doing what it is doing now.

“It’s the circle of TV life, and it has ever been thus.” It’s true, if you still live in the 90s, 80s, 70s, 60s…you get the point?

“To be fair, NBC does stream events live in bare-bones form on its Web site. (Also to be fair, registration is laborious.) Given that the folks griping on Twitter are by definition connected to some form of the Internet, shouldn’t that availability placate them? Apparently not. Apparently we not only want to have our cake but to have it fed to us, too.” Only if you are a cable-subscriber. Get it? More cha-ching!

“But it would be terrible business for NBC to air its coverage of the gymnastics finals or a Michael Phelps race as they happen for a basic television reason: They’re happening five hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time, which means they’re happening in daylight. More people, duh, watch TV at night.” Still doesn’t explain why they can’t show it live. People are talking about it, online news media is all over it and the only difference is NBC isn’t talking about it and choose to keep you – the American people – in the dark until they show it in prime time. It’s like saying “The rest of the world already knows but the Americans can wait, they don’t need to know EXACTLY what happened…yet.”

The world is changing, and has been changing quite rapidly in the last decade and yet we are in a country that supposedly boast about being in the forefront of technology with many ways to make money but choose to do things traditionally.

Congratulations NBC, for raking in millions for treating the viewers as stupid. And let me repeat, we are not pre-social media days any more. I guess for NBC they are happy with what they got now, they don’t need to make MORE right?