The Olympics Broadcast: Is It An #NBCfail?

It's been over two years since the last Olympic Games, and four years since the last Summer Olympics. Broadcasting the Summer Olympics exclusively since 1988 and the Winter Olympics since 2002, U.S. broadcaster NBC has cemented itself as the Olympics network. (Incidentally, NBC has already secured broadcast rights of every upcoming Olympics through 2020.) During the games, for years, they have pre-empted nearly all of their network programming to bring at least 12 hours per day of coverage over broadcast. With the advent of cable TV over the last 20 years, much more coverage has been added on various affiliated cable channels. At this point, NBC really has this Olympics broadcasting thing down to a science. And their broadcasts are great. For the past week, I've watched about 6 hours of coverage per day, maybe even a bit more. If watching NBC is your only exposure to the Olympics coverage, then you have nearly no reason to be dissatisfied. But, then again, with the latest advances of the Internet, we have been taught to demand more.

Without my Elgato EyeTV USB TV Tuner and DVR software, I would probably not be watching any of the Olympics. Through the TV Guide built into the software, I can record all the Olympics I want. I can skip through the commercials. I can press pause whenever I want to make dinner or change the laundry, then come back and resume it later. Most of the world may not have this functionality incorporated with their broadcast TV tuner, but they are increasingly used to being able to find it later on YouTube, Hulu, or other services. In this area, NBC Sports is definitely a bit behind the curve. Yes, their website is full of highlights videos, so I could see the last 30 seconds of last Sunday's Women's Cycling Road Race, but I could not watch the last 10 minutes of the race on demand, which is the part I missed while I was at church. If they were to server the audience as best as possible, viewers could watch any event after it happened. The so-called "experts" at these major media companies say they cannot put the same amount of advertisements into the content, but I disagree. I just want to watch it when I want, and it shouldn't matter to Chevy, Proctor & Gamble, and Visa if I watch it in primetime tonight or during my workout tomorrow morning; I'm still a valuable customer.

One solution I've not yet mentioned is on the NBC Olympics website. They advertise being able to watch every event live and offer the ability to replay many events that are not going to be aired later on TV. However, what they don't mention is that you have to be a subscriber of one of their partner cable providers. That is, if I was buying cable service, I could watch every event live. How does this make any sense? I just checked, and for $20 more per month than I currently pay for Comcast internet service, we could get this feature, but at that price, we still wouldn't get any of the NBC affiliate channels who are broadcasting many events such as Tennis and Basketball live. So, most likely, to get most things via cable, you'd be paying $30/month for cable TV service. Most likely, NBC Universal, which is now at least partially owned by Comcast, gets somewhere between $2 and $5 of that $30 I'd be paying monthly. Apparently, I'm in the 50% of American TV-viewing households who do not pay $12-$60 per year to NBC, therefore I don't deserve access to their content whenever I want. Also, apparently I am not worth being the target of much marketing, because none of that extra money you are paying means that you get to see less advertisements; you pay the privilege to see more content with just as much advertising in it. As far as I can figure, if NBC really wanted to make money off of advertising, they would want me to watch as much content, with ads intelligently inserted. But no, I have to pay to be advertised to maximally. That makes no sense to me.

Also, today's Internet culture makes everything a real-time affair. Enough people around the world are watching live, and if you are on Twitter or Facebook at all, you will find the results before NBC gets around to broadcasting it. This was not a problem two years ago with the Vancouver winter games, where the time is the same as the U.S. West Coast, and therefore nearly everything can be broadcast live. But with a six-hour time difference, most of the night's major events are happening just after lunch on this side of the pond. Again, this works pretty well if all you are watching is NBC's broadcast, but not if you are looking at any other news sources. (Although, NBC has had a problem or two of spoiling it for fans accidentally as well.) This afternoon, when Michael Phelps was competing in the 4x200M Swimming Final, possibly his last competition at the Olympics ever, it was not broadcast live. At least one viewer (who apparently has paid for cable) was complaining on Twitter that the stream was failing. It wasn't that his local internet access was not working, most likely, it was that NBC/YouTube's live streaming servers couldn't handle the hundreds of thousands of Americans who wanted to watch the race live. This, actually, is currently an Internet architecture problem that can be fixed if companies like Comcast put up a bit of money to get IPv6 multicast working across their networks. Streaming live events to millions over the Internet is very hard today, from what I know about networking as it currently stands, and maybe that is why NBC does not want me to watch online. That, or maybe NBC is in bed with the cable companies to make sure they get their $3 from me to sell me more advertising.

Yes, that's a lot of minor problems that NBC has in today's fast-paced Internet world. In future Olympics, they are only going to get worse unless they keep working on this. But until then, I will watch 5 more hours of Olympics coverage tonight and keep watching more tomorrow. I guess I won't be watching in future years, though, NBC, unless you make it easier to catch the action between other live events of my live, which may be busier in the future.

Comments

The functionality you project is available right now - it's precisely the way that the BBC web-site, digital player system works. Access a stream of content and you'll find the "progress bar" is instantly indexed to go to highlights that might have occurred even just a few minutes ago.

I sharply disagree with the idea that NBC's coverage has been "great." NBC is taking superb content and then editorializing it, layering it with their own narratives, and then chopping it out into incoherent chunks between gobs of advertising. I know, I know, the audience is not really the customer; the client/customers are the advertisers to whom the audience is bundled and sold, so I shouldn't expect something more like "sports-coverage" where events are shown live (or close to) in continuous blocks so that the event's own story may be seen. No, instead, NBC must impose its own assumed narratives onto a smattering of a bit of one event here and another there through features and reviews and recollections of Olympics past. Their coverage is to "sports" what cheese food is to cheese.

What some of us are experiencing is the taste of what is really going on in London - the OLYMPICS - with all their self-sufficient drama and gradeur, a true international festival, instead of the narrow crap being shit out by the past-tense constipation of NBC. What I see is the day in which I activate some internet-TV device and access content from providers located anywhere in the world. The corporate monopolies granted by the IOC are not natural monopolies any more; technology points in the way of possible competition.

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