Dear NBC: Please Explain Your Poor Winter Olympics Coverage

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Dear NBC:  Please Explain Your Poor Winter Olympics Coverage

Everyone pretty much knows the most prestigious winter sporting event occurs every four years in the form of the Winter Olympics.

Why then is the television coverage of it so baffling and sparse?

NBC currently has the rights to broadcast the Olympics until 2012, and I predict that it will win the rights for the 2014 and 2016 Games, especially if the unfortunate Comcast-NBC merger is finalized.  The International Olympic Committee will likely delay bidding for the Olympics until 2011 to accommodate this business merger, although it has delayed bidding once already.

For top executives—Jeff Zucker, Dick Ebersol et al—at the Peacock network, it appears money trumps anything and everything else, which is expected coming from corporate fat cats.  They have decided that the Olympic motto “Swifter, Higher, Stronger” should not only describe the true, competitive mettle of Olympians, but should apply to viewers in their involuntary, frenzied quest to see if they can actually watch the Games.

It just offends me that the inconsiderate methodology is so blatant and uncreative.

The current coverage is indisputably neither viewer-friendly nor does it do the Olympics justice.  So many media markets in the U.S. suffer from blackouts during live events, and these said events are either never broadcast or shown on tape delay despite the existence of NBC’s subsidiary networks such as MSNBC, CNBC, etc.

Broadcasting sporting events in tape delay, especially in a digital age supported by the latest forms of information technology and new media, is the ultimate sin—nonsensical, outdated, and unprofessional.  Yes, viewers have Twitter, e-mail alerts, and the Internet, but these communicative tools clearly can’t replace watching the excitement and drama of live sports unfold via the magic of television.

Similarly, strategic media blackouts only enrage viewers even further by forcing fans to seek other means to find the latest schedule and results.  Plus, to impose such blackouts for a quadrennial event just adds to the frustrations.

Adding insult to injury, tape delayed events are often passed on as if they are taking place in real time.  Sorry to bust your bubble NBC, but people who want to watch speed skating with frequent pauses or when they feel like it already subscribe to TiVo, DVR, or the like.

Even when the Olympics are televised, NBC makes frequent cuts between athletes or events to showcase “exclusive” interviews and fluff pieces.  Interviews and personality stories are most certainly welcome, as long as they don’t cut into the live competition.  And flashy highlight reels set to the dramatic music of the official Winter Games soundtrack still can’t compare to the actual moment.

Sure, maybe you can partly blame the American people for the shoddiness of the broadcasts.  After all, the American public in general craves for glamorous, celebrity-driven stories.  Even in sports, the cult of personality frequently drives the narrative of what the traditional mainstream media chooses to cover, for these type of stories obviously seem to attract a bigger audience, drive up ratings, and milk more profit.

More attractive athletes, whether male or female, receive the most attention in terms of media coverage and frequently garner the most endorsements though they may not be the best at their sport, in contrast to the majority of Olympians who don’t have adequate funding or sponsors to help pay for training, coaching, physical therapy, etc.

Do we deserve and have we brought NBC's mediocrity ourselves? Do Americans really care about the individual Olympic events or just crave the fanfare of accumulating medals and leading the medal count?

Past trends show that winter Olympic sports generally fail to attract a large audience on a consistent basis.  In fact, Olympic sports overall neither match the athletic fervor of other sports nor generate comparable revenue. 

For example, the iconic winter sport of figure skating has gradually lost interest from fans, thereby losing sponsors and TV time.  Thus, networks may be hesitant to cover them properly; there is not enough demand to possibly curtail this reluctance.

Frankly, NBC may have simply tailored their coverage to suit the tastes of Americans.

Nonetheless, many sports fans have expressed resentment and anger, seeking an explanation for NBC’s atrocious broadcasting behavior.  So far, NBC has remained mum.

As fans, we just want to see Games play out.  Some of us enjoy sports for the purity of competition, which the Olympics represent and many Olympians embody.  

So, NBC, please explain to us why you have decided against live, continuous coverage because Olympians have a hard enough time competing while trying to find an opportunity to exhibit their hard work and perhaps find a means to continue financing their dreams.

Stop doing them a disservice, and stop making it harder for us viewers to appreciate and cheer on the fruits of their labor.

We, genuine sports fans, could care less about your state of the art studio with its far-too-gigantic LCD screen and faux fireplace.

Like your current coverage, the place reeks of fakery.  But we want what is real, in real time.

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