OPINION: Why Olympic coverage on NBC is just so disappointing

I don’t get it. With a zillion hours of streaming coverage3D coverage on DIRECTV, and plenty of channels available, this should be the best Olympics ever for the sports-obsessed. Yet there is more complaining than ever. The New York Times investigates the rise of #nbcfail, while the Christian Science Monitor quoted James Poniewozik of Time magazine who said, “NBC tape delay coverage is like the airlines: its interest is in giving you the least satisfactory service you will still come back for.”

Is it just that in today’s instant-snark society, we’ll complain about anything?

NBC have done an incredible job of providing coverage of just about everything, but let’s give credit where it’s due: Online coverage is coming from Olympic Broadcasting Services, and all NBC does is re-package it, usually without even adding commentary. Give NBC, and its parent Comcast credit for pockets big enough to pay for all the coverage they get, but that’s all. The same can be said for the 3D coverage: OBS does the hard work while NBC does the distribution.

They redefined the concept of “available coverage” by adding so much online content, but as for their own coverage, what they bring to the table has been largely unsatisfying.

It started with the Opening Ceremonies, where NBC used commentators who were so unprepared that they didn’t recognize Sir Tim Berners-Lee. If the World Wide Web is the most significant invention of the 20th century, perhaps ever, Dr. Berners-Lee is by extension the most significant inventor of all time. Yet obviously he is not significant enough for Meredith Vieira, who did now know who he was (but probably can tell you what Kim Kardashian wore to her last movie premiere.)

NBC insulted Britons (and in my opinion, everyone else) by cutting away from the ceremonies’ tribute to victims of the 2005 London bombing. According the the Washington Post, they did so because they felt US audiences wouldn’t be interested. This paints a fairly pitiful picture of Americans if we don’t care about so much needless loss of life.

NBC’s primetime coverage has been “business as usual.” From an uninspiring graphics package to commentators who routinely focus on the wrong stories to huge amounts of “fluff” between events, NBC has done nothing to revise the playbook used by networks since the 1960s. Personally I have no problem with NBC waiting until prime time to broadcast those events that are likely to give good ratings, but they missed an opportunity to reinvent coverage by editing out those flat spots where we see the gymnast’s back as she walks to the bench. There are too many needless and uninformative replays and not enough real coverage. NBC could easily fit half a dozen gymnastic routines from promising international competitors if they stopped playing the same routines four times.

You’ve got HD? So what? Apparently that’s NBC’s point of view anyway. NBC picks up its graphics from the OBS, which produces programming for worldwide markets, many of which haven’t gone HD yet. NBC lost the opportunity to do something (anything) with the extra screen real estate on the sides of the picture. I don’t think it should be as crowded as the typical business news program but there’s a lot of wasted space there that could be used for simultaneous different angles or statistics.

Ryan. Seacrest. Let me first start by saying that I wish Mr. Seacrest well, although he clearly doesn’t need my endorsement to become successful. However, his presence on the Olympic stage says most of all that NBC views the Olympics as entertainment programming, not sports programming. That’s fair; it probably is more entertainment-oriented. However, NBC seems content to shed even the appearance of hard sports reporting when it uses Mr. Seacrest for interviews.

Above all, the Olympics this year, for all its technology, ends up seeming like a visit to an older relative’s house. Everything is just where you remember it. That’s good, that’s comforting, but at the end of the day they haven’t noticed that you’ve grown up.

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 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.