The outcry from Americans has begun already — and is too loud to ignore. Guardian headline:
NBC lambasted over banal butchering of opening ceremony – and rightly so
That was, one suspects, only the start of two weeks of NBC ineptitude.
NBC’s determination to “bottle feed” Olympic content to US audiences is now little short of ridiculous. Also, its self-anointed drive to “contextualize” the world outside of the US for “ignorant” American viewers who apparently don’t understand London or British history or the NHS, is (to be polite) beyond patronizing. But none of that nonsense is really new.
We all expected no better from the company.
Since NBC had first won long-term rights to Olympic coverage in the US, its broadcasts of the events in the 1990s and 2000s has never failed to infuriate and let US viewers down badly. It has long become trite to note that NBC won the rights to the games … just to make sure no one actually showed the sports.
Yours truly suspects a major part of the problem NBC faces is the collision between its ad-driven business and the demands of making available multiple concurrent live sports on television in an internet and cable/satellite era in which viewers now commonly expect to watch programming uninterrupted by ads.
In that dilemma, NBC is rather unique among broadcasters covering the games. Most national channels around the world — like the BBC here in the UK — are commercial-free, so devoting nearly unlimited time to events is not as difficult given there is no need to cut away for commercial breaks.
Clearly NBC cannot do anything about that. Yet the network’s lack of imagination, or even head on recognition it is dealing with a media “global village” that has changed dramatically even since 2008, is appalling. Owned by Comcast, that corporate parent (rather than mucking around for only its customers) could have decided to devote TV channels to commercial-free viewing of all the actual sports as a one-off paid package open to all, and reserved commercial NBC itself for its “highlights”, “human interest” and Matt Lauer, Meredith Viera and Bob Costas. On the BBC digital setup in the UK, a viewer can see every single event LIVE on TV.
It is perhaps NBC’s “package for prime time” mentality that is the worst of all. Yours truly was a young teen in 1980 and those of us around then all recall that, yes, then Olympics broadcaster ABC tape-delayed the USA vs the USSR ice hockey match. The game was scheduled to be played in the afternoon and ABC desperately wanted to move it to prime-time live to maximize its audience; but the Olympic authorities would not budge from the schedule because it was a global event that not just Americans were watching. However for an American viewing public then raised on Jim McKay and “Wide World of Sports”, tape delay was no surprise; if we didn’t want to find out the result, we just avoided the TV until 8 PM.
In 1980 Americans also had rotary telephones, 45 rpm records, and AM radio still played music. Cable TV was in its infancy, with CNN barely a year old and few had heard of it anyway. International media “live” for the masses at their fingertips required trying to pull in the crackly BBC World Service on shortwave radio. A generation before email and the internet, people still had “foreign pen pals” to whom they exchanged — yes, really — mailed letters.
All that is now largely history as we know, yet network TV executives at NBC in 2012 still believed they could “tape delay” the Olympics? It is astounding and even laughable. Yet for US viewers now being cheated out of the global comraderie of live viewing of a worldwide sporting event by a TV network which holds an iron legal grip on the games and possesses also a sports broadcasting model rooted in 1980, it is not in the least bit funny.