Editor’s Note: Ed Bark, former longtime TV critic of The Dallas Morning News, blogs about TV at the website unclebarky.com.
Ed Bark: NBC has record Olympics ratings, but getting slammed for time-delay
He says Twitterers grouse that they want the big events live, not on nightly show
He says what's the problem? The Web live feed works and shows few commercials
Bark: NBC set to lose money on Olympics; why would it steal from prime time to satisfy some?
It’s not easy being NBC, which is touting record ratings for its first three doses of prime-time Summer Olympics coverage while at the same time getting hammered in some quarters for its time-delayed approach.
The ever-cranky “blogosphere” is aflame like the Olympic torch with denunciations of the network for not airing some of the marquee events live on TV screens, instead packaging them for the nightly Big Show from London anchored by Bob Costas.
There’s even a #nbcfail Twitter hashtag available for those who want to vent their fury – or merely twit NBC. Says one aggrieved tweeter, “Ryan Lochte could cure cancer during a race & NBC would air it 6 hours later with the cure portion removed for a Seacrest interview.” (That’s a reference to NBC’s far less defensible decision to omit an Opening Ceremonies tribute to the 52 victims of a 2005 terrorist bombing in London. NBC instead filled the time with a taped Ryan Seacrest interview of U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps; the network lamely explained, “Our program is tailored for the U.S. television audience.”)
I think NBC is getting unfairly eviscerated though, for taking the same prime-time approach of every U.S. Olympic network over the years. The Peacock network also has trumpeted the fact that all the major events packaged for prime-time TV are available earlier live on nbcolympics.com, where the Men’s Gymnastics Team Final is in progress as this is being written.
Yes, it sometimes takes 30 seconds or so for the live feed to load up. There also have reportedly been some glitches, as might well be expected. But on my at-times balky old 2006 iMac desktop, nbcolympics.com has been working just fine. The Web coverage is in high-definition, can be viewed full-screen and has far shorter commercial breaks than you’ll have to endure during NBC’s prime-time TV presentation. So really, what’s the big deal?
Well, we now live in the full-blown age of Twitter, which was still pretty much in diapers during the 2008 Summer Games from Beijing. Information is disseminated at breakneck speed, and tweeters don’t want to wait even extra seconds for it. Period.
Jeff Jarvis, the terminally dissatisfied proprietor of the BuzzMachine blog, says that “we in the U.S. are being robbed of the opportunity to share a common experience with the world in a way that was never before possible.”
Really? How so? Those who want every last ounce of up-to-the-second Olympics information can avail themselves of nbcolympics.com. Or scour the Internet for the latest competition results. Why is it necessary to see all of it on an old-school television screen? That’s so – 2008.
There’s this, too. NBC and the other “Networks of NBC Universal” are on track to lose money on the Olympics, despite taking in more than $1 billion in advertising revenue. The company has readily acknowledged this. So can Comcast-owned NBC Universal really be expected to even further jeopardize its prime-time ratings by showing all of the most talked-about competitions earlier in the day on the NBC mother ship (or the NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, Bravo, etc.)? Somebody’s got to pay for this coverage, and the sprawling blogosphere doesn’t look all that ready to sponsor a telethon for NBC Universal.
Four years ago, the 12-hour time difference between New York and Beijing enabled NBC to show some major events live in prime-time by persuading Olympic officials to begin them in relatively early morning hours. Some of the athletes complained, leading to criticism of NBC for strong-arming the sainted Olympics into a made-for-TV event.
The time difference is just five hours this time, making it basically impossible for NBC to air anything live in prime-time unless it somehow had persuaded the International Olympic Committee to have Lochte and Phelps jump live into the pool sometime after 1 a.m. London time. Imagine the outcry.
Record ratings so far for NBC’s prime-time coverage suggest that a lot of viewers are more than content to sit back on their living room couches and watch the “traditional” time-delayed presentation. No doubt a good percentage of them, myself included, try not to know who won ahead of time. It’s always been more fun that way. Hasn’t it?
In a perfect world, NBC would have the option of going live throughout its prime-time coverage. Any network, and viewers as well, certainly would prefer it this way.
But nothing’s perfect, with instant gratification and/or instantaneous complaining ingrained as never before. So NBC will continue to take a severe beating from some no matter how well it does in prime-time. It’s the way of the world – and all the more so on a highly wired world stage.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Bark.