NBC’s Olympic Coverage Punishes Broadcast TV Watchers

NBC's Olympic Coverage Punishes Broadcast TV Watchers

There’s been plenty of ink spilled about how NBC is mishandling the Olympics. But Sarah and I are watching them tonight, and she just went on quite the rant that I hadn’t considered. See, NBC ran a whole special on the 1996 Women’s Gymnastics game, and Kerri Strug’s inspirational vault to seal the gold medal. It was followed up by an interview with Bela Karolyi. Both were nice to watch, but they highlighted a huge fail of NBC’s coverage: for so-called “prime time” Olympics, it was 8:30 before any current sports were shown!

Yes, NBC has apps. And there are also various ancillary NBC cable channels for extra Olympic coverage. But plain vanilla NBC didn’t air a minute of gameplay until 8:30, and even then it was only 3 minutes before yet another commercial break (the Kerri Strug special only received one commercial break). Sarah suddenly turned to me in the midst of this and summed it up well,  “Holy crap the Olympic coverage is elitist.”

If you want to enjoy the Olympics, hopefully you have a comprehensive cable package. And an iOS or Android device for extra detail through the apps. For good measure you should also have a nice computer for extra video streaming. If you rely solely on the main NBC broadcast channel you will get a healthy diet of fluff, lots of commercials, and if you’re super lucky 3-4 uninterrupted minutes of actual Olympics. For an event that supposedly unites the country, it feels an awful lot like you need some pretty deep pockets to get the full experience.

Worst of all, the retrospective on 1996 took up valuable time between 8-9pm. Sarah and I both have vivid memories of staying up late to watch Olympic games, but when we were little, “late” was relative, and in reality we probably both were only allowed up until 9 or 9:30 (at least, I was). So not only is the narrow period of time to watch the Olympics choked with more commercials than the Super Bowl, there isn’t even a new Olympics to watch!

For all the cord cutters and tech savvy watchers out there, there are plenty of people just watching the games the old-fashioned way. Unfortunately, NBC seems intent on punishing that audience with this kind of coverage. It is easy to say that Sarah and I will turn to apps and streaming video to actually enjoy the games, but everyone who doesn’t have a house full of tech toys is stuck suffering through the same tired commercials and terrible interviews. Forget the time delayed airing, the crappy job they are doing on the actual broadcast is the true #NBCFail.


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Zek has been a gadget fiend for a long time, going back to their first PDA (a Palm M100). They quickly went from researching what PDA to buy to following tech news closely and keeping up with the latest and greatest stuff. They love writing about ebooks because they combine their two favorite activities; reading anything and everything, and talking about fun new tech toys. What could be better?

7 Comments on "NBC’s Olympic Coverage Punishes Broadcast TV Watchers"

  1. Actually, as a cord-cutter, I haven’t found a way to watch any events at all. To use the NBC Olympics apps, you have to have a cable or satellite package. You can watch NBC’s packaged “highlights” a day or two after the events, but as far as watching the actual events themselves in anything approaching real time, I haven’t found it yet.

  2. I agree that NBC’s coverage is abysmal. There are somethings that I just enjoy watching, like men’s gymnastics and the rings in particular. They weren’t shown at all, because apparently they are the lowest scoring apparatus, and so I guess we didn’t need to see them at all. I also don’t like that they really don’t show much of the other nations competing, unless they’re kicking the US’s butt and we have no chance to medal in the event.

    Part of watching the Olympics to me is to actually see the other nations competing, and not just in things like swimming and track and field events, where they have to show the entire field participating in a race. If there was some way to make it look like Phelps and Lochte were swimming alone, I’m sure they’d do that.

    I knew we were doomed in the TV commentary when Ryan Seacrest started interviewing people. I’m just not his biggest fan, and I’m really tired of him popping up everywhere. He’s too much “fluff” and nowhere near a journalist to suit me.

    The majority of the events I like are close to done now. (Gymnastics, swimming & diving) I’m not sure why but the track and field events just don’t thrill me very much. I DVR the nightly 4 hours, and by the time I fast forward through commercials and volleyball, and inane commentary, there is usually 1.5 to 2 hours of something worth watching, and even starting to watch at 10pm, I’m usually caught up with the programming before midnight, and can’t wait to shut off Bob Costas, who seriously looks like he just got a bad facelift!

  3. We haven’t watched a single minute of the Olympics. The US coverage is nothing but fluff. This is a sporting event…on an international stage! Why bother broadcasting a world event if the only athletes highlighted are Americans?

    I find it funny that people don’t see the similarities between NBC’s “tell a tale of personal drama” and the good vs. evil storylines of professional wrestling (no, I don’t watch that either). The fact that you sat through an entire special on the 1996 Women’s Gymnastics game is amazing. If NBC were to re-run episodes of ‘Boston Common’ (1996-1997) during prime time would you saddle up to your set to watch it?

  4. Actually, I really liked the retrospective on the gymnastics team from Atlanta, but I agree with Carly that the beginning of the prime time broadcast was the wrong time to show it. It was a huge accomplishment for them to have won at the time. But, still not 30 to 45 minutes of prime time broadcast, for sure! Like dropping out the memorial to the 7/7 victims to show a taped interview with Ryan Seacrest and Michael Phelps – that was just rude to ignore that and show a taped interview instead of the opening ceremonies!

  5. Actually I liked Boston Common!

    But no, I wouldn’t have sat through it. We sat through the retrospective because we kept expecting current sports.
    I am really disappointed with NBC. I don’t remember the Olympic coverage being this abysmal in the past and I really hope the criticism changes how they handle it in the future.

  6. The tape-delayed primetime coverage is aimed at the general public, and hence it has the most popular events, a lot of viewer handholding, and lots of profiles, interviews and other fluff (they must figure its popular, they do a lot of it over the years). If you don’t know much or anything about a particular sport (think for example… curling), its probably helpful, but hardcore fans are often frustrated. The morning/afternoon live coverage is much leaner and there’s a lot of it, I totaled it up on one day to find nearly 12 hours in addition to the primetime coverage. I’m not sure I’d call the other channels ancillary, there are eight other channels with three of them dedicated to the Olympics.

  7. Doug Miller | August 6, 2012 at 10:50 am |

    I understand why NBC tape-delays, and I think it’s fine, but I do agree that there should be more sports and less fluff. Last night (maybe the night before?) they had a Mary Carillo feature that would have perfect for the Today Show, but was a waste of prime time sports coverage.

    I give a lot of credit to NBC for their mobile platform apps that allow you to watch anything live, but to me the other problem with this is that the feed on NBC itself is not simulcast on the app. It’s the only channel that is not simulcast – you can watch the MSNBC, NBC Sports Network, and other channels as they are broadcasting, but not the live NBC feed. Normally that’s not a terrible issue, but last night we lost power for 45 minutes during prime time coverage and there was no way to watch on the NBC Live app. I hope that they do a few things next time:

    – provide an app that allows you to subscribe to coverage if you do not have an approved TV package. I’d pay for an app that allows me to watch anything, anytime that I want – live or replay.

    – simulcast the NBC feed on that app

    – on the actual TV coverage, tell us what is playing on the other channels when they change to other coverage. They can do that with a simple crawler on the bottom.

    I love watching the Olympics and I understand that to NBC (or to ABC/ESPN, or Fox, if they won the coverage), the most popular coverage of the day is most valuable in prime time, tape delayed if necessary. However, I need less narrative, less ridiculousness (such as Dan Hicks saying on day two that these will be the Olympics of Ryan Lochte – I guess not so much), less US-only coverage, less cameras in the faces of 16 year old girls waiting for their gymnastic scores, and more actual action, and more staying with one sport for an hour and less jumping from sport to sport.

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