It’s time to talk about the Olympics

It’s all over except for the closing ceremonies. Yes, there has been a lot of problematic stuff about this year’s summer Olympics. It’s enough to make a lot of people think they should just end. You can find that sort of commentary on a lot of other sites. I’m here to talk about the TV coverage.

Better, but not good

Every time NBC airs the Olympics, be they summer or winter, their coverage gets better. I think the low point must have been around 2008, when much of the coverage was still standard-definition for no good reason. Since then, things have gotten better. Cameras and overall quality has improved. There’s been an increased use of streaming. And, thankfully, it’s now possible to see nearly every event. Possible, yes. But not easy.

NBC, who has the exclusive US rights to the Olympics, has made an incredible mess of its coverage. Starting with complaints that its national coverage was nothing but a tape-delayed clip show, they’ve moved to make more content available live as it airs. They’ve used the other networks in their portfolio to show a lot of other events. But it’s still a huge mess and some would say, a wasted opportunity.

More 4K, sort of

On Comcast, Spectrum, DIRECTV, and others, there has been a lot more 4K coverage. However, it really doesn’t seem to be much better than the HD coverage. This perception is so common that it’s led people to wonder if the original footage is being captured in 4K at all. It’s possible that the original stuff is being captured in HD and then upsampled. That’s fine and all, and it’s better than nothing. But it’s not truly 4K. I’m not sure how many people really care about the difference, but there is a difference.

On DIRECTV, there have been two channels dedicated to 4K. They have sometimes shown the same content as the NBC coverage, but sometimes they’re delayed by several hours. Let’s be honest here folks, we’re not going to wait for hours to see a 4K broadcast, especially if we know the original broadcast isn’t live anyway.

Finding what you want

DIRECTV has helpfully put together an Olympics interactive experience. It helped people find what they wanted to see by sport or by date. There was a dedicated Olympics channel and an Olympics Mix channel. I’ll give it to the folks at DIRECTV, this is probably their best interactive experience yet. It loads fast and doesn’t have a lot of extra stuff weighing it down. But let’s be honest, DIRECTV can only work with what it’s given.

The big problem for a lot of people has been the streaming experience. For much of the live stuff, you either need a live TV streaming app like AT&T TV, or you need to authenticate with your cable or satellite provider to an app like the NBC Olympics app. Otherwise, it’s been very hard to find the stuff you want.

The missed opportunity of Peacock

Peacock, NBC’s streaming app, was originally designed to premiere at the Olympics last year. And so, there was a lot of hope that you would be able to see everything live and that the experience would be well-organized. Well, that hope went out the window, to be frank. Peacock didn’t have all the content you wanted. Some of it required a paid subscription even if it had commercials. And some of it just wasn’t on Peacock. NBC claims that Peacock subscriptions are through the roof and they probably are. But how many of those people will stay, considering the experience they’ve been given?

NBC has another chance next year with the Winter Olympics and I hope that someone in their streaming division is taking notice of all the poor publicity that Peacock’s gotten over the past few weeks.

NBC coverage has been…

I have to say that I am flat out amazed at how many commercials have been shown in the NBC live coverage. Often times they will show one event, one race or one apparatus, then go back to 3 minutes of commercials. The amount of actual Olympics content (as opposed to interviews and fluff) has always been lacking, but this takes things to a new level.

I suppose the absolute worst was about a week ago when NBC actually cut to a commercial during the 800 meter freestyle swimming event. Yes, it’s a long race. But seriously? They kept the race on in a small window on the side but come on people. That’s just ridiculous.

I get that the Olympics are expensive to produce. The expectation is that it will be paid for with commercials. But it’s gotten to the point where really you’re watching about 45 minutes of fluff and commercials for every 15 minutes of content. Or at least it seems that way.

Getting ready for ’22

The 2022 Winter Olympics will be in Beijing, China. I could have sworn that city just hosted the Olympics. A quick Google search said it was all the way back in 2008. That’s still a pretty quick turnaround but not as quick as I thought. NBC has about 7 months to get it right. They need to create a better experience for cord-cutters, and dial the commercials way back.

They also might want to have a meeting with some of their commentators. I don’t want to point fingers at specifics, but it seems like there are two types of commentators: those who get really too excited without explaining to the audience why they are excited, and those who just seem to be phoning it in for the sixth or seventh time. Both groups need to work on their presentation.

And I want to say to those commentators, in case this actually gets to you — I know that you’re doing a great job. But your goal, which is to keep the viewer engaged and informed — needs work. Sometimes that means a little work on your diction, and sometimes it means a little more focus on helping us understand what we’re looking at rather than throwing out a lot of terms.

Last words: Does there need to be an Olympics?

I don’t want to go too far down that rabbit hole, because this isn’t that kind of blog and a lot of things have been said by people who are a lot smarter than me. But It does seem fairly clear that host cities never make money on the Olympics. In many cases there are other world-class events for people to watch. The politics involved always seems to overshadow the real meaning. And overall, I’m not sure it’s making the world a better and more connected place, which was the original goal. So if they went away I’d be ok with that.

The use of the Olympics logo in this article is not meant to imply any formal association with any team or the Olympics organization as a whole. The logo may be removed upon request from a rightsholder.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.