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NBC Olympic coverage: is the Internet the enemy?


By: Scott Bradner


A year and a half ago I wrote that I expected the Beijing Olympics would be "the last pre-Internet Olympics." (  I was wrong in my expectations.  The Vancouver Olympics has established, without a doubt, that NBC has no interest in maximizing viewer interest in the games or, it would seem, in minimizing the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars it says it will suffer from covering the event.


I will not say much about NBC's decision to broadcast most of the more important events in the Vancouver Olympics during prime time via tape delay.  This is bad enough on the east coast of the US where the time difference means that at least some things, such as the opening ceremony, are broadcast live, but its ridiculous on the west coast where viewers have to wait 3 hours to see coverage of events taking place just up the coast.  Rather many commentators have already discussed this silliness at length and, often, with more color than I can use in this publication.


Instead I want to talk about NBC's technical time warp.  As far as one can tell, NBC is caught in the mid 1980s when it comes to the Internet.  In that pre-web age it was rare, but not unheard of, for the Internet to be used to be bring information in real time to people around the world.  It is now a very long time, in Internet years at least, since the mid 1980s but one could hardly tell when looking at the NBC Olympics web site.  (  If you go to the video page and ask to view the "full live streaming schedule" you get a quite pathetic and limited list of events.  When I looked on Feb 14th curling and hockey were the only sports listed.  Wikipedia says that there are 14 sports and over 80 events during the winter Olympic games.


Most of these events will not be shown on TV in the US.  The video is available since almost all of the events are being shown on TV or streamed over the Internet in other countries.  It would not cost NBC all that much to stream the events they will not be covering on the their shows.  Such coverage, particularly of training and preliminary events would increase interest in the finals, at least some of which NBC will be carrying.  But that would make too much sense.


It sure looks like NBC is terrified of the Internet, and want to have as little to so with it as they can possibly get away with.  Sadly, this is not an unusual reaction in the content business. 


NBC further cripples the few things they do stream by requiring the people who would like to be NBC's viewers to prove that they subscribe to NBC "partners." I have no idea why NBC feels that it is important to make it harder for people to watch their coverage, and one assumes, the ads shows during the shows, but that is what NBC is doing.


For what its worth, I think NBC would get a lot of extra viewers if they simultaneously streamed their regular coverage without the incessant babble of their announcers.  I, for one, would have liked to have seen the opening ceremony the way the organizers put it on without the chauvinistic verbal diarrhea that was the soundtrack on NBC.  I wound up watching it with the sound off. 


Maybe next time there will be someone at NBC that was raised in the Internet age and understands that the Internet is here to stay and is a tool that can be useful.  But I'm not holding my breath.


disclaimer:  I hope that neither the Law or Business school teach the techniques of verbal diarrhea practiced so well by the NBC commentators and I've not heard that the NBC commentators learned their trade at Harvard so the above TV (and non Internet) review is mine alone.