NBC’s Olympic Failure: A Review of NBC’s Bad Olympic Coverage

I love sports. I also love the Olympics. Meaning I really love the Olympics. As you know, I live in Seattle, and Seattle, like the rest of the west coast, is getting screwed by NBC. But, you know, it’s not that bad. I don’t mind watching sporting events that happened live a two hours’ drive from where I live several hours after they occurred, clipped and edited down to an American sizzle of highlight athletes and mind-numbingly pointless stories about “heroes” and polar bears. I don’t mind going on Twitter or Facebook or the Yahoo homepage to inadvertently read about the events and their winners hours before I even have a chance of seeing them on television. I don’t mind that I am unable to watch the events I want to see on NBCOlympics.com, or for that matter CTV.ca, which blocks my IP address from watching videos.

Damn you, NBC. Damn you. How archaic can you be? Usually, when someone or something sucks as much as NBC does – and by that I simply means its consistent fourth place ranking among the networks, – they do something about it. They don’t try to piss off so many people. Since when is not even winning a bronze medal a good thing?

Here are the things I’ve observed so far:

  • The Opening Ceremony
    Of all events to show live, this one should have been the easiest. NBC stated that the opening ceremony would begin at 7:30pm; an hour and a half later, at 9:00pm Pacific, NBC finally started the show. Not only was the ceremony about over at this point (the East Coast having already seen it), it was past midnight by the time the indoor torch was lit; I decided to go to bed before getting to see Gretzky light the outdoor one. To make matters worse, the sound cut out during the broadcast approximately 40 times. It was laughably bad at times. Others in the Seattle area (with Comcast, NBC’s future owner) experienced the same glitches. What a bad start.
  • The Weekend
    The games begin at 9am or 10am every day, so when I turned my television on Saturday morning, I expected that I could watch some Olympics while eating breakfast. After all, the games are happening just a couple hours away – it only makes sense that, at the very least, the daytime coverage would be shown live. But no! Tape delay alert! The Olympics coverage on the West Coast doesn’t start until 1pm in the afternoon, a whopping four hours after the games have already started. On the weekend, Americans are hardwired to watch sports at all points in the day. It’s called football. Why, oh why, does NBC do this to us?
  • Monday Night
    As I write this, it is 10pm on Monday, February 15. The Olympics broadcast didn’t start until 8pm (why not 6pm?), and in that time, they’ve shown almost no sports. Literally, I turned to NBC at about 8:15 and saw three downhill heats, four or five snowboarding races and two pairs figure skating performances. In other words, NBC has shown approximately 15 minutes of sports in the last two hours. They have had lots of commercial breaks, Bob Costas talking, interviews and other filler junk that they claim people like, but no one does.
  • Where Are the Foreign Athletes?
    NBC has always done a poor job of showing athletes from other nations, unless they are the very top ranked in the world (i.e., likely to medal). NBC so far has cut out a lot of the skiers and snowboarders who aren’t “up to par” to make room for their fluff pieces. Without showing other, potentially lesser competitors, it is harder to put the really good ones into perspective; and, at the very least, these Olympic games are supposed to be global: treat them as if they’re global.
  • NBC Devolves Into Fluff
    At the Beijing Olympics, I was pleasantly pleased that NBC offered up lots of sports and a lot less fluff pieces, which depict athletes as “heroes” for their “courageous” stories. The stuff got old years ago, and isn’t what we want to see. But the Vancouver Winter Olympics, so far, have run rampant with stories about athletes with handicapped siblings, adversity and more. Just in the last hour or so they did a piece on polar bears. Polar bears! What. The. F**k. Does. That. Have. To. Do. With. The. Olympics?
  • NBC Fails to Embrace the 21st Century
    We live in a world of Facebook, Twitter, social media, instant news and online video. NBC should embrace these technologies, not try to compete with them. They should be aiming to show the Olympic sports in all mediums at the time they happens.People shouldn’t be hearing the results from their friends before they even have the chance to see the event. NBC should be streaming as much of the events as possible online.
  • They Need to Forget About Primetime and Treat the Olympics Like Any Other Sporting Event
    More than anything else, even if there is a delay of footage, the East Coast and West Coast (and everyone in between) should see the events at the exact same time. A station wouldn’t dare to do this with any other sporting event – why the Olympics? We live in an age of DVRs and other technologies, as mentioned above; tape delays are just inappropriate. Oh, did I mention that Vancouver was in the Pacific time zone? We of all people should get to see the events live!

So far, NBC’s coverage has been terrible. It’s now 10:22, and I’ve only seen one additional skating performance. They’re now doing some story about a Chinese coach. The excuses they come up with (“people only want to watch highlights online”, “three quarters of our audience are on the west coast” and “people want to see back stories on the athletes” have been cited recently) don’t ring true.

How can we convince NBC to improve? Boycotting the Olympics and their sponsors doesn’t seem realistic, but there must be some way to get through to them. I’m open to ideas.

By Erik Samdahl
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