NBC’s Olympics strategy driving viewers crazy, but they’re watching anyway

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The Danny Boyle-directed Olympics opening ceremonies managed to transcend NBC’s coverage of them. The network refused to broadcast the ceremonies live or online Friday, holding them for primetime, and its hosts blabbered over the whole thing, spoiling with nonstop nattering the moments the commercial breaks couldn’t — going to commercial as the opening riff of “Pretty Vacant” rang out? Really? Until I learned that NBC cut a tribute to U.K. terror victims, I thought the worst moment Friday was Bob Costas, musing during the Parade of Nations that “Winston Churchill once referred to Uganda as the pearl of Africa. Of course, he never met Idi Amin.” (However, this moment was very popular with my Scottish wife.)

But sofa-bound whiners like me have a powerful tool this Olympics, Richard Sandomir reports: Twitter, which was buzzing all weekend with complaints about the broadcast. A lot of the carping was about NBC tape-delaying events till prime time, though the network is streaming all events on the Web (you need a cable or satellite subscription to see those, though):

But people want what they want when they want it — and they don’t want the video to freeze, skip, pixelate or buffer excessively. Some who wanted to watch Phelps race Ryan Lochte live (many hours before they raced, on delay, on NBC) were disappointed when the live streams seized up as if hexed by an NBC rival.


NBC’s live streaming strategy contains a wrinkle that was bound to ruffle some fans. In marquee sports like swimming, diving and gymnastics, the live feed runs once, with no replays available, until it has run in a packaged, delayed form on NBC. Indeed, it is not available to replay online until the network’s West Coast prime time show ends.

Heidi N. Moore, whose Twitter feed remains a must-stop for Olympics complaints, compared the streaming strategy to “forcing an entire nation of viewers to give CPR to a corpse.” Moore offers a vague roadmap that computer-handy folks can follow to watch the BBC’s Olympics coverage instead.

Also writing in the Guardian, Emma G. Keller dings NBC for focusing too much on U.S. athletes:

We didn’t mind you cheering about Dana Vollmer in the women’s butterfly on Sunday night, she won a gold medal and broke a world record after all. But when the first South African wins a gold medal in men’s swimming (Cameron Van der Burgh in the men’s 100 meter breast stroke) it would be nice to give him more than ten seconds of air time before racing over to gush about Team USA Brendan Hansen’s bronze.

Keller does salute NBC for broadcasting footage of U.S. gymnast Aly Raisman’s parents intensely weird behavior in the stands while she competed.

But does any of this whining mean anything in economic terms? NBC’s opening-night numbers were its best ever, Ina Fried reports. “[T]here’s no way to know whether airing the Phelps race or the opening ceremonies live on TV would have decreased or increased prime-time viewing,” writes Jeff Jarvis in response to the ratings-are-good argument, cautioning that NBC is “trying to preserve old business models in a new reality.”

The bottom-line lesson for all media is that business models built on imprisonment, on making us do what you want us to do because you give us no choice, is no strategy for the future. And there’s only so long you can hold off the future.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tom-Wittmann/100000565551374 Tom Wittmann

    Really, the catstrophical confuse and badly selected TV presentation of the Olympic is short of a conspiration of NBC and the IOC which factually impeded the the US public not to see man o the most interesting competition, and many of them in a confuse, often overextended fasshion

    1) Even if the sending time was extremely short to cover the games, some few events were presented as qualifications, quarter- semi – and final stages, insumung hours

    2) Some competitions, as diving, certainnly interesting, were presented as above, showing possibly more than 100 times which was clearly boring

    3) Other compertitions, as BMX cycling, interesting for only a few viewers, were also presnted as above for hours

    4) The commentators spoke without interruption during all the events, not allowing the viewer take in the ambience, and filling the time with inconsequential information.

    5) The Internet alternative, which impkeid the payment of about $70 to NBC, was of a very bad quality
    I WONDER IF NBC COULD NOT BE SUED for conspiration and obstruction of information regarding such public interest event!!
    As fot the free internet information of results and schedule, even if some what compkicated, was complete, this being the sole positive point!!

  • Anonymous

    People in the US are watching because 99.999% have no choice and don’t know how to get around NBC.

    As long as the IOC allows NBC to continue overpaying them, the golden rule will prevail for Olympics coverage in the US … he who has the gold, makes the rules.

    It’s not too late to plan a summer holiday in Canada to watch the Games live on CTV in-between sight-seeing, etc. Closing ceremony is on Sunday, August 12.

  • http://interimtom.blogspot.com crowdedfalafel

    NBC’s approach simply continues its contemptuous belief that it is not simply delivering an interesting bit of the real world, but in fact it owns that bit, and will give it to us in thin slices of saleable commodified crap. It’s crap because NBC inserts itself and its idiotic commentators between the viewer and the Olympics. So: commodification and intermediation – the usual USian arrogance and corporate shambles.

  • AngelBum

    Seems to me that the announcers all want to bed the central figures on the broadcast, the phrase that, “Less is More”, should apply. I really don’t want to hear the announcers talk over the event.

  • jerel642

    People do have other choices, but they just don’t know what they are and in some cases, they require a bit of tinkering. You also have to watch out for malware and viruses (if you’re on a windows computer, which most people are.)

  • AngelBum

    What choice do viewers have? there is no competition, let more networks show the Olympics and the best network will win the ratings war. When you haves the only bakery in town, you get the bread the way they want to serve it, unless you don’t eat bread.

  • http://www.WhoNeedsNewspapers.org Paul Steinle

    How about this headline: “NBC’s Olympic strategy is driving some viewers crazy, but tens of millions are viewing anyway.” …?