Gallup: People want Olympics televised live and in prime time

GallupJoe BlogThe Wall Street Journal

A new poll on the Olympics "suggests there is widespread dissatisfaction with NBC's decision to televise the most popular events solely on tape delay in the evening," Gallup reports. Most Americans (59 percent) would prefer that NBC air the Olympics live on TV and again during prime time; just 12 percent would prefer solely tape-delayed TV coverage.

The preference for live and delayed broadcasts is strongest among people who said they're watching the Games a lot, but it holds for most people who said they're just watching a little.

One caveat: Gallup didn't offer people the option to weigh in on live Web streaming, which is available.

Gallup says that while the tape-delay approach is reaching some key audiences desired by advertisers, it's possible those people would watch even more if they could watch live on TV too.

The poll correlates with NBC's research showing that most people who had heard about results during the day still planned to watch the prime-time broadcast that evening, and that people who watched events live were twice as likely to watch some of the same events again that night.

NBC's Dick Ebersol, the architect of NBC's approach to the Games, defended the network's approach in an interview with Joe Posnanski.

“If someone wants to watch the Olympics live, they can do that online. That’s a very small percentage of people. We’ve done study after study where we ask people when they want to watch the Olympics. They say ‘after dinner.’ Every study, I’ve never seen it less than 80 percent, and it’s usually a lot higher than that."

Ebersol said the heart of the disagreement over live vs. tape-delay is that NBC believes the Olympics are a great television event, not just a sporting event.

“The Olympics are the biggest family television there is. The Olympics are some of the last events where a whole family can gather around a television set and spend the night together.

“People talk about how we should treat this like sports? You know, we’re getting an 18 rating some nights. Do you know what rating we would get if this was not under the banner of the Olympics? We’d be lucky to get a 1 rating for some of these sports. … This is our business model. The newspaper people have their own business model. We’re in the television business. We’re here to make great television.” ...

“The key is storytelling,” he says. “That’s by far the most important part of the Olympics. It’s the most important part of television. It’s not enough just to show the Games. We have to give people a reason to care, a reason to be invested.

Olympics junkies will want to read the whole interview, in part because Ebersol talks about how the end of the Cold War made the Games' storytelling more difficult.

And now for something completely different: Kwame Dawes' poem "Scavengers," in The Wall Street Journal. (What, you don't read the Journal's poetry?) He uses Lolo Jones as an example of how the media treats athletes as they search for storylines.

The heroic arc, reduced to worn out cliché,
find the myth of squalid beginnings,
add a dollop of family tragedy,
(death is good but sick mothers are better)
tears at the edge of all remembrances,
and a speech for the people they win for. ...

In this market place of manufactured
drama the virgin sprinter
with flowing hair, is too delicious
to ignore, and when the losers
are glorified for their failure,
and the winners are ignored
the perfect storm for the gluttonous
cameras is created.

Jones was the subject of an unflattering story in The New York Times, which declared the attention she has received was based “not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign.”

Jones said the story ripped her to shreds. Now Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane has weighed in:

I believe writers like Jere Longman, who does have a long and worthy track record at The Times, should have some room to express their hard-earned perspective. But this piece struck me as quite harsh and left me, along with others, wondering why the tone was so strong.

Related: Guardian photographer says he's taking more chances at the Olympics because he's shooting with three iPhones (Wired) | New York Times news apps team ventures into product development with Olympics syndication (Poynter)

Earlier: If Olympics broadcasts are so bad, why is NBC doing so well with them? (Poynter)

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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