Olympics 2012: With Poor NBC Coverage, Does ESPN Have Chance to Win Future Bid?

Marilee Gallagher@mgallagher17Contributor IIAugust 1, 2012

The U.S. celebrates after winning a team relay. The event was broadcast live nearly seven hours before it was televised.
The U.S. celebrates after winning a team relay. The event was broadcast live nearly seven hours before it was televised.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It is no secret that a lot of people are discontent and relatively unhappy with the way that NBC has been handling its coverage of the Olympic Games.

Although they may be covering more events than ever before, it seems that this has come at a cost in terms of choosing what to air live and what to air later as part of their go for the ratings prime time coverage. It is already difficult negotiating the time zone difference, but in this day and age, it is also difficult to avoid the inevitable spoilers of what happened online before there is a chance to watch it on TV.

Essentially, NBC has mismanaged the way it is covering the Games. As a result, it is just giving the IOC reasons to find a new TV host. Fox, Time Warner and ESPN especially have already expressed interest in the television rights.

They lost the bidding, however. Ultimately, the rights went to NBC, whom we should get used to going to for our Olympic coverage; they will be hosting the 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020 Winter and Summer Games.

After this year, however, other networks may become a more palatable choice, especially if this dissatisfaction continues. It will come down to money and influence, but if there are a significant amount of complaints, which so far has been the case, the televising rights could be awarded elsewhere. ESPN, among others, could steal the Games out from under NBC.

Spoiler Alert! Ryan Lochte beat Michael Phelps for 400 meter IM gold!

It was, perhaps, the biggest race of this lifetime. Phelps and Lochte, Lochte and Phelps. The four-year rivalry came to a splashing halt as the first swimming competition of the Olympics. People couldn't wait to see this event.

In terms of airing live, it did. It aired live on NBC's online stream at 2:30 PM ET on a Saturday afternoon. Did I tune in to watch it live? No, I stupidly made the decision to wait until the blockbuster night one prime time coverage aired at 7:30 PM.

Bad decision.

The second the race was over, the results and varied headlines of Lochte taking the mantle from Phelps ran rampant on the internet. I tried to stay away from any site that might have this headline, but as a writer who needed to publish pieces with the keyword, "Olympics," I really didn't have a chance.

I tiptoed around the internet, but then I saw it. On the sidebar of a website, the simple three words were written: "Lochte beats Phelps."

I don't know how many of you experienced this issue, but judging from the media criticism, including the Washington Post link listed above, I was not the only one to have one of the biggest races of the decade spoiled.

Yes, the Olympic enthusiast in me still watched the prime time coverage. I watched the race. I knew who won, but I didn't know who finished on the medals. I do know Phelps didn't medal, but if I could get any sort of surprise out of this race, it would be seeing who did.


The first ever "Sociolympics"

Four years ago in Beijing, the top events—swimming, gymnastics and track and field—were all aired live. Spoilers weren't even possible. It was a beautiful time.

This year, however, the prime time coverage isn't live. On top of that, we now live in a world where Facebook and Twitter are dominant. Athletes are tweeting their results, congratulating their teammates, applauding their country and more. Not to mention NBC's Twitter with up-to-the-minute results, perhaps assuming that everyone already knows the outcomes of the best events.

When something breaks, you find out in 140 characters or less. Facebook is a close second, and your up-to-minute news sites are third.

Nobody wants to be left behind, and the media world is one of immediacy. If you don't break it first, there is really no point in you reporting it at all. This is exactly NBC's thinking when the network themselves, not just their Twitter page or Facebook account, is giving the results of the streamed online events.


NBC is ruining their prime time coverage themselves


NBC is encouraging people to watch their online live streams, but they are also attempting to get their best ratings from the prime time television coverage. They have to know that most people aren't going to watch the prime time if they already know the results. You can't prevent them from knowing these results elsewhere, but you certainly can prevent them from seeing it on your own website.


Online stream is less-than-reliable

Not wanting to have the men's Gymnastics team final spoiled and since it was on at a reasonable hour, I decided to watch the stream online. I liked that there was an alert telling when the U.S. was on a certain apparatus so I could see exactly what I came to watch.

The problem, however, was the stream. It was lagged, froze and, at one point, just totally blacked out. I tried refreshing the page and coming back, but the same inevitably occurred.

I decided to watch something else, a diving event. As I clicked on the stream, it wasn't diving, but rather a beach volleyball match between countries that I don't even remember their names. I suppose this kind of thing is acceptable on television, but online, when you claim to be live streaming? There really is no reason to get volleyball when clicking on a headline that says diving.


Does ESPN have a shot to host in 2022 and beyond?

With all of NBC's miscues and struggles, one has to wonder if the IOC will take that into account when awarding the bids for the 2022 Olympics and beyond. As reported above, ESPN is one of several networks that have thrown their name into the hat, and if they get it, will be the first cable network to host the Games.

That in and of itself provides a problem. Not everyone has cable, and it would be unfair to not broadcast the world's biggest event for all to see.

But ESPN can rectify this.

They happen to have a very lucrative partnership with ABC that pairs with them to host NBA Basketball games and the X Games. In this scenario, ABC could serve as the linchpin to getting ESPN the hosting rights to future Olympic Games.

In addition to ABC, ESPN has a handful of partnering networks they can use to broadcast events: ESPN 2, ESPNews, ESPN Classic, the Disney Channel—they do have options. Plus, they have an online feed that they have had a few years to tinker with and improve upon. It is now one of the better sports feeds out there.

Ultimately, it will come down to revenue, but ESPN could make a strong push once again. They will, of course, be fighting NBC. While NBC is receiving complaints, it is still bringing in better viewership than in the past and is expected to actually break even instead of taking a loss like they did on the 2010 Winter Olympics.

In the internet age, for those of us that still like our television coverage, the best we can hope for is no time difference. At least then spoilers really won't come into play, and it won't even matter which network has television rights.