I’ve mentioned before that I was never a sports fan until I met the AFL. Nevertheless, I faithfully tune into the Olympics and watch sporting competitions that I’d never watch otherwise such as archery, water polo, and women’s weightlifting, or even men’s weightlifting for that matter. I’ll even tune in to the men’s swimming match several hours after it ended and the results have been announced.
Unlike our friends down under and our Canadian neighbors and the rest of the world, in the U.S., we get tape delayed coverage. This is not new. What is new is that in this age of social media, viewers can and have been expressing their extreme dissatisfaction with NBC’s coverage of the Olympics.
The Olympic spirit is about friendship, solidarity, and fair play. It isn’t limited to the athletes. There are few moments when the world experiences something together and the power of social media allows perfect strangers to cheer on together and engage in various conversations about the games. But that was not be with this Olympics. Well, at least not the way we expected.
As the live telecast ended for the rest of the world, Americans on the east coast tuned in to watch the Olympics Opening Ceremony. It wouldn’t air on the west coast for three more hours. If that weren’t enough of a poor start, viewers complained about the commercial breaks and NBC even cut a tribute to the victims of the 7/7 London bombings. That was just the tip of the iceberg. The lowest point so far was when when news anchor Brian Williams announced the results of the much-anticipated men’s swimming 400 IM final during the Nightly News. The match occurred hours earlier, but had not been aired yet, and the news was a huge spoiler. It wasn’t long before the hashtags #nbcfail and #nbcsucks exploded on Twitter and the parody account @NBCDelayed emerged.
Social media has completely changed the way that consumers interact with companies. NBC knows it and has been feeling the public image pressure. NBC’s executive producer of the games, Jim Bell, took to Twitter to answer critics, but some his snarkier responses haven’t exactly helped.
Many Twitter user criticized NBC for not offering live streaming of the Opening Ceremonies as well as offer the taped prime time show. One of the more laughable explanations came from NBC spokesman Christopher McCloskey who said,
It was never our intent to live stream the Opening Ceremony or Closing Ceremony. They are complex entertainment spectacles that do not translate well online because they require context, which our award-winning production team will provide for the large prime-time audiences that gather together to watch them.
Wait; is he saying Americans are too stupid to know what we’re looking at with the Opening Ceremony? Allow me to brag for a moment and say that unlike commentators Meredith Viera and Matt Lauer, who annoyingly talked right through the performance by Arctic Monkeys, I actually know who Tim Berners-Lee is. Meanwhile, sportscaster Bob Costas’s only context for Australia was that the country was “originally founded as a penal colony”.
The issue here, of course, is money. NBC has owned the broadcasting rights to the Summer Olympics since 1988 and to the Winter Olympics since 2002. NBC paid $1.18 billion for these Summer Olympics. Despite live streaming, people prefer to watch on TV, and NBC wanted to snatch up as many prime time dollars as it could. Viewership is up since the Beijing Olympics, but it’s difficult to say how much NBC can be credited for that increase.
I’ll be interested to see for myself how Australia treats events such as the Olympics. Surely other countries are keen to the financial advantages of broadcasting rights and advertising. Yet their presentation appears to be entirely different.
Are you enjoying the Olympics? Are you watching live or taped shows?