2012 Olympics: NBC Keeps Finding New and Unique Ways to Fail American Viewers

Dan Levy@danlevythinksNational Lead WriterJuly 31, 2012

NBC will tell you about Missy Franklin's gold medal when they feel like it.
NBC will tell you about Missy Franklin's gold medal when they feel like it.Adam Pretty/Getty Images

To say NBC is not having the best Olympic Games would be a gold medal of understatements. 

The Twitter hashtag #NBCFail has turned the network into a social media punching bag with hundreds upon thousands of tweets pouring in every hour complaining about something NBC has or has not done in the first few days of Olympic coverage.

The Peacock promised everything would be live online, but they started the games without giving viewers live access to the Opening Ceremony. Instead they made Americans wait until prime time–top dollar viewing hours–to see the official start of the games. Viewers on the West Coast had to wait an additional three hours more than those in the East to see the Olympics officially start. Even when they did eventually show it, they edited out some parts to show interviews with American athletes instead.

How can NBC promise to have every event live and not even put up a stream of the torch being lit?

That was just the start of their problems.

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It seems like NBC has put the sports into separate categories based specifically on who would be watching them. We can watch every basketball, soccer and tennis match on one of the array of networks NBC is using to show live coverage of the games. The fans of traditionally-televised sports should have no problem watching most, if not all, of their events on live TV.

We can't say that about swimming. We can't say that about gymnastics, either. The sports that traditionally do huge television numbers only during the Olympics have been systematically held off live television in favor of ancillary viewing events like dressage and table tennis. Those are fun to watch for sports nerds like us, for sure, but they aren't making NBC any money with their impossibly low ratings. 

NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus is listening to our complaints. It just really sounds like he doesn't care. Per SBJ:

“I think what we’ve proven is that the American viewing public likes the way we tell the story and wants to gather in front of the television with their friends and family — even if they have the ability to watch it live either on television or digitally,” Lazarus said. “I inherently trust that decision is the right one and that people want to see these events.”

NBC can say all it wants that putting the events most Americans want to watch in prime time is serving the viewers, but it's not about that at all. Putting the events in prime time serves their sponsors with higher ratings. The more people they get watching in prime time, the easier NBC can recoup the astronomical amount they paid for the rights to televise the Games.

If events are televised live, savvy American viewers would have the ability to DVR what they wanted to and watch the recordings in prime time instead of NBC's mothership coverage. This would not only lower the overall rating for NBC, but it would also allow viewers to easily bypass any commercials. 

While writing this story, the women's team gymnastics final was live online, while NBC has tennis (on Bravo), non-American women's beach volleyball (on NBC Sports Network) and rowing (on NBC). Earlier in the day, instead of the live swimming heats, NBC Sports Network showed equestrian.


Fans are able to watch every event live online at NBCOlympics.com, if your cable provider allows access to the service. Their tagline for NBC's LiveExtra is "All 32 sports. All 302 events. All LIVE from London."

Only that hasn't been true at all. Many people have complained they aren't able to find certain events online. NBC's website is either poorly structured or purposefully vague when searching the live video options.

Here's an example of how hard it is to find video on NBC's portal: perusing the Active Live Streams tab for video, I have choices that include Court 1 (Aft): Prelim Matches, Medal Rd: W63kg, M81kg, Semifinals: W. Singles, Men's Group B: SRB V CRO and my personal favorite, Men's Preliminaries. 

If anyone could tell me what any of those sports may be, it would make the online viewing experience far more enjoyable–or even possible.

That said, the biggest problem with the online viewing offered by NBC is that many of the events aren't actually even live.

It's as if NBC decided the word "live" is a subjective term.

Many people complained they read about Missy Franklin's gold medal victory on Twitter five minutes before they watched it on "Live" streaming from NBC. 

This could have been a buffering situation given how many people were online trying to watch, but buffering can't explain watching the Spanish men's basketball team play a game and seeing tweets of the final score when more than seven minutes were left on the clock. The game ended on my feed more than 25 minutes after reading the final score.

Sorry, NBC, that's not live. Neither is going to commercial with the online feed while an event is at match point, but that constantly happens with the online feeds.

Of course, none of that is worse than NBC TV running a promo for the Today Show that showed Franklin celebrating her gold medal BEFORE the scheduling geniuses at NBC played her race for the tape delayed audience. 

NBC offered a statement for that gaffe: "Clearly that promo should not have aired at that time. We have a process in place & this will not happen again. We apologize to viewers who were watching and didn't know the result of the race." 

The rest of their mistakes we're just stuck having to deal with. Twitter is faster than NBC ever anticipated and they are left without any answer other than what can obviously make them the most money.

NBC certainly knows how to produce drama. When Jordyn Wieber missed out on the gymnastics all-around, an NBC camera was perfectly positioned to interview the competitors who did make the final while framing Wieber in the shot as well. When the network said they would give Wieber some time to collect herself before requesting an interview, they conveniently went to break, leaving the entire country hanging so they could pay their bills before delivering on the story of the Games to that point. 

Lest we forget the story had happened nine hours earlier, so what harm will two minutes of ads do the viewers anyway? That is the NBC Olympic model.

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