#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

Grandma Giffin

August 1st, 2012
4:37 pm

Gotta love the FB and twitter crowd saying people are posting Olympic spoilers. Geez, if you care that much, just avoid FB and twitter for the day.

Reid Adair

August 1st, 2012
4:40 pm

Mark, I have to disagree. They could easily resolve the issue by showing the events live on MSNBC, CNBC or something else, then replay the big events in prime time at night.

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

UGA 11

August 1st, 2012
4:41 pm

The internet needs something to complain about at all times. This week, it’s NBC’s Olympics coverage. Who knows, maybe one of these weeks it will be you, MB!


August 1st, 2012
4:42 pm

haters gonna hate


August 1st, 2012
4:43 pm

great points MB – totally agree. Anyone that disagrees has no clue about how ads/ratings/sales all work together.


August 1st, 2012
4:43 pm

thanks, Grandma… BTW, avoiding twitter all day doesn’t help against NBC spoiling Missy Franklin gold medal race minutes before they aired it… Also, tell Brian Williams that the only reason we are watching him is because we are biding our time for primetime coverage to start, so don’t tell us who won the events we’ve been waiting around all day to see.


August 1st, 2012
4:47 pm

Reid Adair

August 1st, 2012
4:47 pm

Got to disagree, Mark. They could easily show the events live on MSNBC, CNBC or one of their other networks, then again live in primetime.

Also, Bob Costas’ interviews of Michael Phelps and the “Fab 5″ last night were embarrassing. Phelps had done something no one may never match again, and Costas stayed focused on the fact that Phelps isn’t who he was in 2008 and is probably done after this Olympics. Then he starts off the “Fab 5″ interview by bringing up Jordyn Wieber not making the all-around final competition.


August 1st, 2012
4:51 pm

The Ryan Seacrest interview with Michael Phelps on the first night wasone of the worst sports interviews of all time. That’s probably why he’s off his game a bit.


August 1st, 2012
4:52 pm

It seems like the coverage in the 80’s and 90’s was more balanced and wasn’t so heavily American. Sure, American athletes were the focus and rightfully so considering it was an American broadcast, but they still did stories and provided coverage on non-American athletes. Now they do none as far as I can tell. I’m not in the camp that has been conditioned to care about the constestants (Sick of hearing about all those swimmers. Good grief. Swimming is boring). I’m a sports fan and I’m more interested in the events themselves. What is Usain Bolt up to this week? How is he preparing to defend all his gold medals? You know, the fastest human being that has ever freaking lived. Yeah, that guy. What about all those Chinese athletes racking up the medals? What is up with them? What is their secret? I guess we’ll never know.



August 1st, 2012
4:58 pm

Well said, Mark. NBC exists to please its stock holders, not its viewers, which means, obviously, it acts to maximize revenue. Only if people in the right age group (the ones advertisers care about) get so miffed at NBC that they actually stop watching the delayed broadcasts, will NBC change its ways. And no one needs a Nielsen box anymore to know what people are watching. This rather valuable (and therefore costly) information is sold to outfits like NBC by the cable providers, who have all the numbers. I too can’t stand TV, but I’m 64, and no one cares what I watch. I don’t buy enough.


August 1st, 2012
5:03 pm

How about the fact that if you don’t have cable, like my family, then you don’t get to watch online and they only show certain events, missed fencing, equestrian, and boxing (the only events I would even care about). Not to mention the opening ceremony coverage, wtf was that.


August 1st, 2012
5:05 pm

Set up the DVR and record NBC’s not-so-live coverage and watch it in the morning. You get to go straight to the competitions, skipping the commercials and talking heads.

GT Alum

August 1st, 2012
5:06 pm

Reid Adair -

Then they lose those prime time viewing numbers, which means they lose money. Plus, they use those channels for showing events with lesser appeal.

Guy Bailey

August 1st, 2012
5:07 pm

They could easily show it live as the British and Canadian networks are doing. They could still show a round up show on the evening of the big events of the day but you can’t turn the clock back to 1996 and pretend it’s not happening.

I watch the BBC streams live during the day (easy to find online if you know where to look) and they are everything NBC aren’t – knowlegable commentators who know when to shut up, wide ranging coverage of EVERY event live and while the British are rightly featured as the hosts, a more egalitarian approach to covering all the games.

NBC’s coverage of the opening ceremony is one of the worst executed pieces of programming I have seen. Cutting out the tribute so the obseqious Ryan Seacrest could ask Michael Phelps if he would like to win another medal, Matt Lauer and co not doing enough research to know who Tim Berners Lee was etc. So glad I watched the stream live.

This is a seachange, not just with social media but in broadcasting. This will be the last Olympics where TV viewing is greater than Internet viewing IMO and the networks have to adapt to this.

Over NBA Forever

August 1st, 2012
5:09 pm


August 1st, 2012
5:13 pm

“Apparently we not only want to have our cake but to have it fed to us, too.”

More Bradley brilliance. Kudos.

GT Alum

August 1st, 2012
5:16 pm

Cassie -

If you don’t have cable, I’d think you’d be used to missing out on stuff. And how are they supposed to tailor their broadcasts so everyone gets to see the events they want? They put the events with the greatest appeal during prime time on the main channel. Most people in the US don’t really care about equestrian and fencing.

Reid Adair

August 1st, 2012
5:20 pm

GT Alum, they aren’t using those channels to show “live” events. And the same people who can’t watch during the day now would still watch at night. The main network numbers would not change significantly.

Middle of the Road

August 1st, 2012
5:22 pm

For those without cable tunnelbear.com is your friend.

Gman 84

August 1st, 2012
5:24 pm

Are the folks that complain about live coverage available during the day to watch for hours?

No perfect answer to the question: Do you air the event when nobody is watching? Or, do you wait and package it in prime time? It’s fine the way they do it. We live in a DVR world anyway and with the filler and commercials, I prefer to delay the delayed (Twitter #timeshift) broadcast.


August 1st, 2012
5:35 pm

Its absolutely rediculous. If you want to wait till primetime to air something fine, but could we please get a dang schedule for when we should tune in. So far ive missed eerything i wanted to watch becous theres nothing out there to tell me when its on. And id also like to see other countries as well. Gymnastics for instance, i have yet to see a non american. Dont get me wrong i root for my country but wheres the fun in a dang blind competition? Wheres the judo? wheres the boxing? wheres video of this badminton controversy? All I see is freakin swimming and gymnsastics and tennis or volleyball. And who really cares that much about swimming, its on constantly. This coverage is a joke.

old fart

August 1st, 2012
5:36 pm

Whatever happened to Dan Patrick? I thought he was a co-host. Maybe he’s covering womens field hockey. He should have stayed home and watched everything with the Danettes.


August 1st, 2012
5:40 pm

Why are we watching? Because some of us don’t have a choice. No cable or internet at home (have to keep the bills as low as possible to make rent and put food on the table). If it wasn’t for the work computer, I would be pretty much a slave to NBC (and I can’t stream it here because we do not use one of the special providers NBC has partnered with). You forgot to mention one thing, though. They will give you updates live as they happen on their website, then 2 minutes after the fact, the results disappear. Happened way more than once.


August 1st, 2012
5:49 pm

A friend of mine in mexico said the opening ceremony was on at least 3 stations there. And she watches things live like swimming there and tells me who won. Like the 4 American women in the relay swimming today for gold. It’s idiotic to not show this live. They have at least 5 channels they can put it on but nooo. So they could show it live for those home in the afternoon and morning and again tape delayed at night. I don’t watch the crap at night. NBC is a joke and it doesn’t surprise me it’s a failure when you look at the idiots who run the company and their political leanings.


August 1st, 2012
5:50 pm

Nice my post doesn’t show up. Ajc is a joke

Chris Eagle

August 1st, 2012
5:52 pm

@Red Adair… Broadcasting the events live through MSNBC or CNBC will not solve NBC’s quandary. If you broadcast it live, then it opens the event up to be reported with highlights re-broadcasted. It becomes fair-game for all news outlets. By NBC tape-delaying the events, then the video results are withheld. That’s the key.


August 1st, 2012
5:53 pm

Why can other countries show major events live like in Europe and Latin America and they don’t do it here?
Don’t the tv networks on those countries have to pay $$$ also????


August 1st, 2012
5:59 pm

The people who are b****ing about the overly-American coverage do not understand marketing and the American populace. The vast majority of the viewing public are only interested in US athletes, and ad sales are driven by number of viewers. So, increased Americanization -> increased viewership -> increased ad buys -> increased revenue for NBC. This is a very smart and calculated business decision. It really is not that difficult to understand and appreciate. If you don’t like it, watch Al-Jazeera and see what they cover.

Beast from the East

August 1st, 2012
6:01 pm

I love the Olympics. I hate the coverage. I want to watch the competitions. I could care less what Michael Phelps eats for breakfast or the rest of the “human interest” stories.


August 1st, 2012
6:02 pm

Also, for those beatching about swimming, again, Nielsen ratings suggest that this is a hugely popular event. I love it personnaly, and wish there was more. And for those wanting to see judo, badminton, field hockey, team handball, weightlifting, shooting, etc. – just turn to CNBC, MSNBC, or NBC-Universal-Sports. If you can’t get those, then get with the 90s and get DirecTV.


August 1st, 2012
6:03 pm

The problem i have is it’s so hard to find out what’s on what channel. And the commericals in the middle of a match, like water polo or volleyball or soccer is a joke. Funny the networks don’t have to do that in other countries but they do here. I guess they care more about their citizens.


August 1st, 2012
6:08 pm

Illini i watch it all and they rarely show those events on those channels. It’s all swimming and gymnastics tape delayed at night which is of course tape delayed. But during the day, it’s volleyball, one or two water polo matches, basketball and one skeet shoot match this week, some freaking ping pong many times, tennis a lot volleyball and a couple of soccer matches each day with one wrestling match thrown in too. Over the weekend some archery. And cnbc only shows boxing at night..tape delayed. I saw one field hockey match and a few min of badminton and handball just a couple of times.


August 1st, 2012
6:13 pm

Sorry Mark. Weak. Weaker than normal.

I spent 6 tours in the Army in Germany. The German networks know how to do it. It is live, regardless of what continent and what time of the day. Much less fluff…more sports. And then in prime time you get to see all the events that were televised live at whatever time. This coverage is so abysmal that it is hard to put into words. Hell, the other day the idiots told everyone to watch the upcoming race and then proceded to tell us that the gold medal winner would be on Today then next day. Duh!

If you have never watched outside the country you probably have no idea how professional Olympic coverage can be. It really is sad.

Bucky Badger

August 1st, 2012
6:18 pm

When I saw Ryan Seacrest on the Olympics last night, I almost Puked…Ya Gotta Be Kiddin Me!


August 1st, 2012
6:33 pm

I understand your opinion as a TV personnel, but think about this:
In most first-world countries, the events are live on-line or on-air without the subscription of cable or satellite. What NBC does to the events (editing like a reality show) to put on prime time is fine, but impeding the people in the US, either Americans or foreigners, from watching the event is just ridiculous. When the people in your country need to use VPN to access outside information like dissidents in China, don’t you feel something is wrong?


August 1st, 2012
7:17 pm

GRD: probably a statement about the luxury my wife and I have as educators during the summer, but we have been beating the heat by staying inside and watching stuff streamed live on various NBC affiliated channels – pretty much have one of the channels on all day long. We’ve seen a mixture of table tennis, rowing, cycling, team handball, water polo, swimming prelims, boxing, weightlifting, soccer, field hockey, and basketball.


August 1st, 2012
7:25 pm

I love the Olympics but hate all the commercials and BS that NBC puts into the prime time coverage. Show some actual evens and not 60 minutes of commercials in a 3 hour broadcast !!!


August 1st, 2012
7:36 pm

golf isn’t always live, half the putts are taped and shown in sequences


August 1st, 2012
7:58 pm

I urge anyone who has a problem with NBC’s coverage to watch the BBC streams, it is everything the Olympics should be. All events are shown and the commentators don’t think they have to talk through everything with their vacuous thoughts, when they do speak, it’s good information that is pertinent, then they shut up and let you watch the games.
I have also tried NBC’s live streaming coverage and it’s awful, most of the events have no announcers whatsoever; it’s like I can’t escape the incompetence – either complete lack of info or someone chattering away about so much bs that it detracts from the competition.
What you are watching is the decline of the broadcast networks, just like newspapers have seen with the advent of the internet. It will take a while for them to catch on, but TV viewing will never be the same when we can choose to watch live streams on the net and avoid their talking heads.
If you live outside the US, you can watch all of the Olympic events streaming live on youtube. It’s truly sad when countries that barely have internet service at all can watch these events live in a better format than we can just because of NBC’s rights to the games in the US. I encourage everyone to watch the BBC or CBC coverage of the games, then tune to NBC and tell me it’s not the worst of the three.
As for IlliniBrave – I regularly watch Al-Jazeera on the net and I suggest you do the same, it’s amazing to see the quality of their news shows and reporting. I have requested that Al Jazeera be made available on Comcast, as have many others, so hopefully that will be available soon.


August 1st, 2012
8:25 pm

I really enjoy watching the events (women gymnastics was great) but hate all the melodrama/human interest B.S. NBC throws at us. It’s so dumb some times- like when Olympic athletes are competing, NBC will have cameras turned on someone’s parents.

Paul in NH

August 1st, 2012
8:36 pm

Since NBC has paid out a boatload of money I can understand why they want to maximize their investment. The prime time telecasts don’t seem to be based on sports though – although the gymnasts and divers are tremendous athletes, I am not sure any endeavour decided by judges’ opinions is a real sport. If dancing were an Olympic event (like it is on ice) I am sure that we would be seeing that in prime time as well.

Paul in NH

August 1st, 2012
8:38 pm


August 1st, 2012
8:45 pm

The whole thing has been a mess- not just the timing issue. They could have gone live on the weekends. If I and others can get up to watch the British open, why not the Olympics?

Opening ceremonies were run like a T-Day parade. Costas has surpassed Berman in the race for deteriorating , irrelevant sportscasters. I know it’s the Olympics, but do simple things like graphics showing scores have to be amateurish.

They don’t even do a good job of presenting the international flavor of the Olympics or the many varied events. Someone not familiar would have no idea of the wide scope of events and countries involved. If there is a Teofilo or Alekseev existing today we would never know about it.


August 1st, 2012
8:51 pm

Haven’t watched a minute of it and don’t plan on watching any. As I’ve gotten older, the whole idea of “The Olympics” seems pretty lame. It’s all a big marketing hype now. Bring on football.

OK by me

August 1st, 2012
8:53 pm

If it wasn’t for US commerical TV $ there wouldn’t be an Olympics. Everyone else is basically freeloading (look up the German, Chinese, Canadian, etc broadcast rights fees). And yes I lived overseas for the 2008 games and saw the difference.

I really like the on-line streaming with no announcers. I’ve seen live almost everything I wanted to see live, and no noise. The repeating ads don’t really bother me either – I suspect they will figure out the on-lines ads are seen more than the TV ones – you can’t change the channel.


August 1st, 2012
8:55 pm

#NBCfail? If everyone hates the Olympics, why do we watch? WE DON’T HATE the Olympics! We hate NBC’s way fof presenting them. Anyway who said everyone hates the Olympics? I don’t know a single person who even dislikes them?


August 1st, 2012
9:07 pm

Almost every other country in the world, they show it live as it happens, and more importantly they show ALL the athletes not just the American’s. NBC skips a surprising amount of games and their commentators are legendary about picking apart and trashing other athletes who aren’t American.

If you want to see how it’s done properly, get a free VPN and check out BBC olympics, Canada or even Mexico shows more athletes and other events, live, as they happen with a repeat later for the prime time mouth breathers.

There isn’t commercials every 5 mins either.

Paul in NH

August 1st, 2012
9:28 pm

Mark B needs to watch out about retweeting hashtags critical of NBC – they’ll have his Twitter account pulled if he doesn’t watch out.


Guy Bailey

August 1st, 2012
9:37 pm

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/olympics/2012/ – has the schedules and everything else you could possibly want for the Olympics. Check it out and see how its done properly.