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The 2014 Winter Olympic Games – NBC: Off the Podium for Good – TVBites


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The 2014 Winter Olympic Games

NBC: Off the Podium for Good

by Neena Louise

Another Winter Olympics has come and gone and, as always, NBC sucked big time. Worst coverage ever, in fact. They’ve never had much live coverage, but this time the only thing they covered live was the gold medal hockey game on the last day. That was it. The biggest change for these Olympics, however, is: NBC has become completely irrelevant. Because of the area in which I live, I receive Canadian broadcasts and, as usual, they know how to cover an Olympics. CBC (who thankfully took over from CTV) did a bang-up job by starting their live coverage at 2 am EST (sometimes even earlier) and ending it at the end of the day in Sochi around 2:30 pm EST. After that, they’d air taped coverage of sports they hadn’t covered during the live broadcast, a couple of hours of regular programming, then air repeats during primetime – and all night long. This was the schedule every single day of the Olympics. NBC, instead of airing anything live, urged viewers to watch live webstreams if they were interested in live coverage (and if they had a cable subscription and the computer power and the time to use their computers/tablets/smartphones for TV-watching for hours on end). That wasn’t the case for the Opening Ceremonies, though. NBC chose not only to not stream them live, they tried to block the streams from other countries’ websites so you couldn’t watch those, either. If you wanted to watch them, you had to wait for the primetime broadcast 9 hours later. Well, if you’re not tech-savvy, that is. It’s not difficult to watch live streaming broadcasts from other countries using a proxy server. NBC still hasn’t leapt into the 21st century, it seems. Furthermore, if you live close enough to the Canadian border, all you needed was a digital TV antenna. Y’know, those ancient thingies that stick out and catch broadcast signals from the air? Americans were not out of luck, we just weren’t stuck with NBC if we wanted live Olympic coverage. You’d think with the rabid backlash over the 2012 Summer Olympics coverage, NBC would’ve listened to viewers and improved. On the contrary, since they garnered huge ratings for their tape-delayed 2012 Summer Olympic coverage, they appeared to thumb their nose at viewers with a “we can do whatever we want and you can’t do anything about it and we’ll still make zillions” attitude by airing only tape-delayed coverage. It’s like they were taking advantage of people who either didn’t have a cable subscription or just couldn’t watch online for whatever reason. I find that vaguely offensive.


The caliber of NBC’s “coverage” (and I use that term loosely), was apparent the day before the Opening Ceremonies when superdork Bob Costas stated that it was, “of course, impossible to cover anything live” in primetime. Considering it was the middle of the night in Sochi, well, duh! If you watched the primetime broadcast, however, “we won’t tell you the results in case that’s what you want.” Excuse me? “In case that’s what you want”?!? In this age of instant information everywhere, how in the world could you possibly not know the results before the broadcast? True, it’s not possible for everyone to watch live web feeds during the day, but results and news were absolutely everywhere hours and hours before NBC’s broadcast. It was virtually impossible to not know the results unless you didn’t log onto the Internet, take to Twitter or Facebook, watch any TV, listen to the radio nor, well, talk to anyone. Idjits. I know Costas was trying to appease all the viewers NBC knew in advance would be enraged by its crappy coverage, but that condescending attitude was hardly the way to do it.


sochiAll these years and I still fail to understand NBC’s pathological aversion to live coverage of Olympics. They have never done this – even when the Olympics was held in the same time zone as a good chunk of the U.S. I. Just. Don’t. Get. It. Their excuse has always been that they need to garner the biggest ratings which they get by hoarding and airing popular sports only during primetime – basically a highlights reel of select events. I can understand their stance to some extent, but I can’t help wondering how much bigger NBC’s ratings would be if they actually aired something live. All the years I’ve been watching Olympics, NBC’s never even tried this, so how do they know their ratings would drop precipitously during primetime if they did? They just assume that’s what viewers would do. Once again, their utter disdain for viewers becomes apparent. That’s not what viewers would do, if I’m a typical Olympics fan (and I think I am). As usual, I would have the TV on and maybe have a few events streaming on the web during the day when I was working. But, I happily watched them again slouched on the couch in front of the big screen TV during primetime. I knew the results, the news, the spills, the upsets, but it didn’t matter at all – I watched it again. In fact, I was more inclined to watch a repeat of an event I’d already seen if it was exciting enough. Though live is best, of course, it’s a different experience watching on a big screen when you’re comfortable and it has your undivided attention than it is watching on a small office TV, smaller computer screen, smaller-yet tablet or smallest-of-all smartphone while doing something else at the same time. I wish NBC would just stop assuming they know what viewers want when they’ve never even tried anything else. However, as I said, it didn’t matter how much NBC sucked: they were completely irrelevant. Other than the Opening Ceremonies, I watched very little on NBC. When I wasn’t watching CBC, I watched international web feeds using a proxy. On the weekends, I often streamed them to my big screen TV, completely eliminating the need for anyTV broadcast. So, who needs NBC anymore? Not me. I hardly think I’m alone, either.


Though most people have at least basic cable, there are still millions that don’t and I feel very sorry for those who could only watch NBC’s few hours of taped events. NBC needs to get out of the Olympics business. They really suck at it and just keep getting worse. They’re completely out of touch with technology, trends and what viewers really want. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with them until 2020, but I really hope a different network takes over after that. Perhaps by then TV broadcasts will have become entirely unnecessary and networks can just go screw themselves. Like they’re already starting to do.


Some Olympic highlights:

Opening Ceremony Coverage
After the first 15 minutes, I found the opening ceremonies dull. Though the floating land masses were pretty cool, there was a lot of hippy, trippy imagery and a whole lot of ballet. CBC’s commentators took a page from NBC and just would not shut up. Blah, blah, blah…a whole lot of nothing. I kept impotently pleading “shuuuuuut uuuuuup!”. When one of the snowflakes failed to open up into an Olympic ring, they chuckled, but took the “oh well” attitude and moved on. During the Parade of Nations, they were generally pretty respectful, but wouldn’t stop commenting on all the political strife in the various countries, rather than concentrating on the athletes and their sports. Once the Canadians entered the stadium, however, all bets were off. They kept cutting to the Canadian athletes, ignoring the incoming countries, and carrying on about the Canadians. I found it horribly disrespectful. When they went to commercial, they didn’t even bother to mention the countries that had entered during the break – they just went directly to the Canadians again. Then, to make matters worse, they actually held an interview with some Canadian athlete right in the middle of the Parade of Nations. That was not the time for a deadly dull interview! I was appalled.


Nine hours later on NBC, I was surprised that they kept the blather to a minimum. How very un-NBC of them! They explained what was going on without babbling on about nothing to fill the void. It didn’t really matter what they were saying or not saying, though, because the audio was so low that I couldn’t hear them very well. When the snowflake failed to open up, they took the stance that, well, things like that will happen in such a spectacular and (to my surprise) “That’s too bad.” Since it was from tape, no nations were left out and, they restrained themselves from mocking the athletes’ attire as they so often did in the past. I was surprised to find NBC’s coverage much better than CBC’s. ‘Course that’s easy to do when you have 9 hours to get it right.

Silliest Comment
“We won’t tell you the results in case that’s what you want”. Bob Costas at the beginning of NBC’s tape-delayed coverage.
Best Example of Good Sportsmanship
Canadian speed skater Gilmore Junio giving his spot to teammate Denny Morrison after Morrison fell in the Olympic trials, falling off the roster for the 1000M. Though Morrison wasn’t a favorite and wasn’t expected to medal, he won the silver. I’m not sure I would give up my spot like that – especially if I had 12 members of my family that had traveled thousands of miles just to watch me race like Junio’s did. His explanation? “For me it was a no-brainer. [Morrison]’s one of our best skaters, so to keep him off the ice would be crazy”. Wow.

Best Example of Poor Sportsmanship
Canadian luge coach Wolfgang Staudinger complaining to the press that the luge course conditions had been fixed to favor some nations. If that was true (big if), there are channels to go through; making unsupported accusations to the press isn’t one of them. The best finish any Canadian luger has ever had previously was 7th. This Olympics, they placed 4th in 3 luge events. While 4th is the most heartbreaking finish, going from 7th to 4th is a pretty significant improvement. Not only did Staudinger’s comments sound like sour grapes, it detracted from the medal winners. Big whiny baby.

Lamest Event
Curling. I’m sure it’s fun to play, but watching it is the equivalent of watching paint dry.

Best Commentator
Steve Armitage, CBC, speed skating. Armitage’s enthusiasm for any good race – no matter the country, nor whether it was a preliminary heat or medal final – was very infectious.

bob-costas-eyesWorst Commentator
Bob Costas, NBC, anchor. Please go away.
Best Feature
Not a feature, per se, but CBC would occasionally explain in great detail the particulars of an event: the equipment the athletes use, the rules, the scoring, the course, etc., etc. I’ve been watching some of these sports for years and never knew half the things they mentioned.


Best Commercials
VISA, NBC and CBC. They weren’t the most interesting commercials, but Morgan Freeman’s soothing voice-over made them almost irresistable.


Worst Commercials
For the first time ever there were no tiresome, overly-boring nor overly-irritating ads.
Sport I Never Thought I’d be Caught Dead Watching (never mind enjoying)
Biathlon. Anyone who’s ever read a TV Bites Winter Olympics column knows biathlon usually takes the “Lamest Event” category. Though I was all prepared to flip past the 10K sprint, I paused and got totally sucked in. On a Saturday night. At midnight. Sober.
Best Moment
Canadian ski coach Justin Wadsworth replacing the Russian Anton Gafarov’s broken ski. Gafarov crashed and broke his ski during a semifinal heat in the men’s cross-country sprint. As he approached the finish line, he fell again, essentially shredding the ski. He valiantly kept going on the one good ski, dragging the broken one beside him, pieces flapping and getting tangled. It was painful to watch. Out of nowhere, Wadsworth (an American Olympian, now coaching the Canadian ski team), hurtled over a snow bank – ski in hand – onto the course and, without a word, immediately bent over and switched out Gafarov’s broken ski. Gafarov crossed the finish line to the roar of the home crowd. Wadsworth later explained: “It was like watching an animal stuck in a trap. You can’t just sit there and do nothing about it…I wanted him to have dignity as he crossed the finish line.” So, here’s an American, coaching Canadians, helping a Russian. If that doesn’t epitomize what the Olympics is all about, I don’t know what does.

Best Website
CBC, hands down. Before the games began, both CBC’s and NBC’s websites were pretty much even. Once they began, however, I couldn’t get NBC’s website to do anything without a great deal of effort.

Thunks on the Head…
…to NBC for jumping around between venues during their tape-delayed primetime broadcast. The only reason they did this, of course, was to force viewers to watch the entire broadcast just to see the event(s) they were interested in. Understandable, but I heard from many viewers that turned the channel when it jumped to a different event, then often forgot to switch back. Not only did they miss the event they were interested in, they didn’t bother watching any others. So much for your clever little plan, NBC.


…to CBC commentators for chuckling when Anton Gafarov was struggling to continue with a broken ski. It wasn’t funny, dickheads.

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