An Open Letter

Dear NBC,

I know I’ve been doing a lot of complaining about your Olympic coverage on Twitter, so I wanted to take the opportunity to take a deep breath and compose my thoughts in a longer than 140 character chunk, and while I’m not being actively disappointed in your coverage. Oh yes, I am disappointed, do not question that. But that’s me getting ahead of myself.

I’d like to start by saying I understand the time shifting of events to prime time. I’ll go one further and say I even appreciate it. I am unable to watch streaming event videos during the day, the only events I get to see live fall in those few minutes between when I get up in the morning and when I go to work, and those last few events of the day still on when I get home. Last night, for example, the only event I could really see live was the USA/Canada women’s soccer match, and even then I turned in late in the second period of AET. This morning I got to see a little bit of the triathlon and two heats of track running.

I love the Olympics, and I would be sad if these were the only events I could watch. And so I watch the prime time coverage to catch up on the day. I’ll even try my damnedest to go into the events unspoiled as to their outcomes. So, yes, please provide time shifted events during prime time. But please…stop being so bad at it.

The current model of the Olympics prime time broadcast has hardly changed from the Olympics I remember watching as a kid, which is a shame because so much about the rest of the world has. I appreciate that you now offer so much more coverage than just the prime time digest, I believe you when you say broadcast more hours of coverage the first weekend of the London Games than during the entirety of the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. But then I see little facts that disturb me. Like how the only two countries that didn’t show the final of the men’s 100m dash on live television were the United States and North Korea. I understand it’s one of the most anticipated events in the whole of the Olympics, but that’s not an excuse to sit on the coverage until the 10pm hour of the prime time broadcast. Especially when every sports, and most non-sports, news sites have the result of the race plastered on their front pages seconds after the race is over.

Oh yes, the spoilers. You don’t seem to understand that these other news organizations are downright giddy to spoil results of events you’re embargoing until prime time. And they should be, because you’re giving them such a fantastic opportunity to scoop your own coverage, and because they’re news organizations, and these results are news. I expect spoilers from them…I don’t expect them from you.

I’ve had to train myself to go directly to the TV Schedule page if I want to see what’s on when I get home, because inevitably the front page of NBCOlympics has the results of the big events you’re planning to show that night. It’s possible to provide these results online without making it so clear that you don’t care about those viewers, like me, who would like to go into the evening at least a little ignorant of what we’re about to see. We’ve also seen two examples during the games of Today Show promos running during the prime time broadcast that spoil the results of events that have yet to air in prime time. Most egregiously promising Missy Franklin’s thoughts on winning her first gold medal three minutes before she won it.

Like I said, I understand time shifting. I rely on time shifting. But why do you insist on being so bad at it? Airing the 100m final live when it happened on one of your coverage networks would not have affected my tuning in during prime time.

Oh, and one last thing about the evening broadcasts. We’re tuning in to watch sports. I understand the occasional athlete profile, but the cultural segments where we’re treated to a ten minute retrospective of James Bond (followed, surprise surprise, by a Skyfall trailer) or instructed on the history of Longitude are point in time when you are not actually broadcasting sports. I know those segments have been your stock and trade during Olympic coverage for years, especially when they let you look down your noses at how other countries live, but they are only subtractive. Teaching us about Longitude or 007 can come back just as soon as the Olympics include events in trans-oceanic sailing, or Being James Bond (which I see as some variation on the Modern Pentathlon that would involve Walther PPK marksmanship, evasive driving, and perhaps jetpack races).

I’m not even going to get into the lengthy coverage provided to the 1996 women’s gymnastics all-around final.

I hope you’ve seen the criticism of your handling of these games, and will actually consider some changes for Sochi, Rio, Pyeongchang, and wherever the 2020 games happen. Because you already own broadcast rights to those games, so we American viewers are stuck with you at least through then. Unfortunately, I don’t know what your incentive is. You’ve paid to broadcast games that don’t even have a site yet, so there’s no risk of losing the rights anytime soon. And the prime time broadcast creates a nasty feedback loop. You get great ratings broadcasting the games the way you broadcast them, because what option do we have, so that serves as feedback that people must like them that way, so it’s more of the same every two years. The same events (skating in the winter, diving and gymnastics in the summer), the same format, the same everything.

You have gotten better. I remember Olympics when the prime time broadcast was nearly it. I remember Winter Olympics where you went to no coverage for hours on end to cover NASCAR instead. Using the NBCU family of cable networks was a huge step forward, and I appreciate that there are dedicated pop-up soccer and basketball channels during these games. You’re offering so many events streamed online. I love all of this. But the flagship of the Olympic broadcast is leaking badly, and needs repairs.

A loyal, disappointed viewer.

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