08 August 2012

NBC Olympics Critique

The Sports Economist | Brian Goff | Olympic Stew

The nightly prime time coverage is hard to figure. It’s part “Today Show” with extensive “special interest” segments and interviews. In fact, the last few nights, the first hour has been dominated by this. Ok, I get the idea that they aren’t directing the coverage toward sports junkies. They show a ton of gymnastics and swimming — I get that also in terms of demographic targets. The focus tends to be on U.S. athletes and select others (especially British athletes). Obvious enough. Lots of women’s beach volleyball — more than obvious. However, they show only the final lap of the 10,000 meters (and a few seconds afterward) of an exciting last few laps of the race in which a highly popular Brit (Mo Farrah) wins gold and Galen Rupp (who trains with him) wins the first US men’s medal in the event since 1964. They show about 10 throws from the men’s shot put with Bronze medalist Reese Hoffa from the U.S. Alright, these decisions seem to fit with the whole “Today” show vibe, but, in contrast, NBC airs practically every prelim heat for the 100, 400, 400 hurdles, 1500 along with almost every prelim heat in swimming with a U.S. swimmer.
Agreed, 100%.

The tape-delay thing I don't mind. In fact, I'm surprised that's still a complaint. That's the way it's been in every Olympics I can remember (except Atlanta, for obvious reasons).

Here are my complaints:

∞ NBC does a poor job of telling me what event is going on, especially in Track and Swimming. Is it that hard to put up "400m quarter final" or "100m Butterfly Prelim" on the screen, especially before they start? Swimmers getting ready for each race look the same; how am I supposed to know what they're getting ready for?

"Oh look, fencing. Saber, épée, or foil?" "I don't know." "Oh, boxing is on. What weight class?" "I don't know." "Are they lining up for the 100 or the 110 hurdles?" "I don't know."

∞ I don't care for Tom Hammond. There is no larger point here; I simply wanted to mention that.

∞ When you watch Sports Center they manage to make a complete narrative out of everything they cover. Even if it's 45 seconds of coverage of a baseball game, they give you story. For the events NBC barely covers, they don't bother to give you narrative. It's just one woman (the American, always) doing one long jump, and then they tell you how she finished, and that's it.

If that event happened eight hours ago you can have someone edit it into something worth watching, even if it is just for 90 seconds. Tape delay gives them so much freedom to craft stories out of these events, and they don't seem to be bothering. Ennis winning the Heptathlon seemed like a fascinating story. Why did I only get to see the final event of the seven?

∞ Also, if you're delaying things anyway, why are you showing the highest profile events (*ahem* the men's 100m sprint *ahem*) at 11:30pm? If you're taking the liberty of putting whatever on whenever, why are you saving so much good stuff for midnight? Yes, yes, I know they're trying to keep me on the hook all night, but come on...

∞ Delayed coverage is fine, but you need to get everyone on board with that. You can't run promos for tomorrow's Today Show interview with gold medalist Smith if you aren't showing Smith competing for another two hours. You can't have cycling commentators talking about who won medals in rowing earlier that morning if rowing isn't going to be televised until after cycling.

∞ I've decided I have far less interest in team sports in the Olympics. For one thing, they emphasize the Nationalism aspect rather than the mano-a-mano aspect,*
I'm less interested in "Our Best vs Their Best" than I am in "The Best vs The Best."
but mainly they just take too damn long to televise. I'm not interested in seeing two hours of a single preliminary water polo match, followed by 5 minutes of kayaking finals, followed by 30 seconds of triple jump recap.

∞ If you're going to soak up hours of your primetime coverage doing "Today Show" type stuff, like recapping gymnastics from 16 years ago instead of showing current events, then can you at least put some sports coverage on your other channels? Do your Bela Karolyi interview on NBC, but put some Tae Kwon Do on Bravo instead of back-to-back-to-back showings of Starship Troopers.

∞ I thought the coverage of Reese Hoffa was particularly weird. I had seen a big chunk of the shot put live online. In the evening (several hours later) they covered less than a minute of it, then did a little "we'll get back to the shot put action later to see the conclusion," then an hour later showed the medalists' final throws. They covered it as if it was something happening in progress when it's no secret it's already done. NBC isn't fooling anybody into thinking that it was live. The whole rest of the coverage, even the announcer's verb tenses, made it clear it was in the past. Just show me two consecutive minutes of coverage rather than doing a little song-and-dance as if this is breaking news.

(Hoffa's shot put wasn't the only event they did this to. I remember high jump got the same treatment.)

∞ Again, this is a small complaint. I've come to peace with the fact that I will not get to see nearly as much coverage of Field events as I would like. I'll accept the air time scraps they give to throwing and jumping. Fine. I just wish they wouldn't half-ass the few seconds I do actually get.

∞ No, scratch that. I do not yet accept their scanty Track & Field coverage. Not as long as ping-pong is getting air time. Not some ping-pong either. Entire matches. Whole hours of ping-pong coverage. Do you see this over to the right? Do you see Discobolus? That's THE GOD-DAMNED OLYMPICS right there. Why isn't that shit on TV?

∞ I do not understand NBC's coverage (non-coverage, really) of women's soccer. I'm not missing it much, but Mrs SB7 sure is. So many of their other decisions seemed to be aimed at female viewership, so I don't understand them not even showing games in the knock-out round.

Every game, including the finals, is relegated to NBC Sports. Again, I can guess at the potential thinking behind this, but I don't think it's the right call.

∞ The way NBC is treating Twitter and Facebook is so laughable. I can just picture some executive saying "That social media stuff is big these days! The kids love it! We need to compete with that!" and the response they come up with is "Let's read off people's tweets on air!" It is the most superficial way possible to incorporate social media into your business. You're not going to get people to put down their smart phones because you talk about one picture LeBron James put on his Facebook wall.

1 comment:

  1. Prediction: Twelve years from now, American performance in the Olympics will begin taking a nosedive. Why? Because we've got our heads so far up the great greedy ass of capitalism that we even let the media hijack the olympics to make a few bucks; one result is that kids nowadays are NOT watching the olympics, and that translates to fewer kids training to enter the olympics themselves in the coming decade.