How interested are you in the Olympics? If you’re like most red-blooded, sports-loving Americans, the answer is very much. Now, how satisfied are you with NBC’s coverage of the 2012 games in London? Chances are, not so much.
Anecdotally, I’ve heard nothing but complaints. Not covering the good stuff, lame interviews, tape delays—everyone’s got some sort of bone to pick with NBC. It started off the bat, when the network decided to cut away from the Danny Boyle-produced opening ceremonies during a moving tribute to the victims of the 2005 terror attack in London. NBC, in their infinite classiness, aired an interview between Michael Phelps and Ryan Seacrest instead. (You can watch what you missed over at Deadspin.)
NBC’s demerits didn’t end on Friday. In an article in the Associated Press, David Bauder writes: “The online complaints focused Saturday on NBC’s decision to air the marquee swimming event won by American Ryan Lochte on tape delay in prime time, and Friday on the network not streaming the opening ceremony online. Sunday’s critics started early: people wondering why the U.S. men’s basketball team’s opening game aired on a cable network while women’s cycling was shown on NBC.” The article notes that critics have even created a Twitter hashtag for finding fault in NBC’s Olympic coverage: #nbcfail
Others complain that too much of the spotlight is hogged up by the same big names and hotshot events. “If you watch NBC’s prime time coverage, you’ll see Phelps and Friends churning up the pool, Usain Bolt and buddies tearing up the track, and gymnasts of all shapes and sizes defying gravity, interspersed with the odd feature segments where John McEnroe or Ryan Seacrest gets up close and personal,” Allen St. John writes in Salon. “Nothing against Rebecca Soni or John Orosco but watching this focus-group approved, tape-delayed edited-for-content coverage is a little like traveling to a foreign locale and then checking into a Hampton Inn and buying tickets for the bus tour….The Olympics ought to be a sports fan’s smorgasbord, a quadrennial chance to put aside the ball and the bat and partake of the exotic and the downright odd.”
Basically, in this age of instant gratification, people want to watch whatever Olympic goings-on they want to watch when they’re ready to watch it, be it Ryan Lochte going for his gold as it happens, or trampoline events at 3 am. Instead, they have to contend with NBC cherry-picking the best events for prime time and exiling other events to different channels and times (and good luck figuring out when the event you’re looking for is airing and what channel you have to tune into to watch it). You’re left DVRing everything and fast-forwarding to your favorite parts.
It’s a rotten system, but one that’s unlikely to change. The truth is, while NBC hears your complaints—executive producer Jim Bell has been out there responding to all your angry tweets—there’s little incentive to change anything. More than 40 million people watched the opening ceremonies, according to the Los Angeles Times, breaking ratings records. According to ratings, the coverage isn’t broken, so there’s no need to go about fixing it. Oh, and NBC has the rights to the Olympics through 2020.
James Poniewozik, writer for Time magazine, put it best when he tweeted, “NBC time-delay coverage is like the airlines: its interest is in giving you the least satisfactory service you will still come back for.”