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Winter Olympics TV Coverage Far From Golden

It’s that time of the year again. The 2005 National Football League season has come to an end with the Pittsburgh Steelers capturing the Super Bowl title, the Major League Baseball Spring Training season is just readying to begin, the National Basketball Association is in a holding pattern for most fans until its playoffs, the NASCAR season is just getting started with the Daytona 500 just raced and the National Hockey League is on hiatus due to the 2006 Winter Olympics. And with the NCAA’s March Madness still weeks away, what is a sports fan to do?

We force ourselves to tune in to the NBC television broadcast network in order to try to catch some of the real competition on tap in the XX Olympic Winter Games. Sports fans are not averse to watching Winter Olympics coverage, but trying to figure out NBC’s television schedule has become a sport of Olympic proportions unto itself.

The supposed television Winter Olympics schedule is available in local newspapers, in various sports magazines and all over the internet. But the schedule times are useless in pinpointing when any particular sport is broadcasted. And depending on what time zone one lives in, it is virtually impossible not to hear the results on television, radio, or view online prior to seeing the broadcast as NBC has its coverage tape delayed in five different U.S. time zones.

The excuse to not broadcast real time coverage during these Olympic Games is viable this year in that Italy is six hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time. But on weekends it is feasible for live coverage at least on the east coast. It is worth noting that almost 40 years ago, U.S. television viewers were able to enjoy primarily live coverage of the 1968 Winter Olympics from Grenoble, France and later with the 1972 Olympic Summer Games from Munich, Germany, via television satellite. But what was the excuse in not broadcasting the 1996 Summer Olympics live when they were in Atlanta, GA and then when the 2002 Winter Olympics were in Salt Lake City, UT? Both were instead tape delayed, again in five different time zones.

The reason for NBC’s incoherent TV scheduling is because of its monopolized ability to edit and package the coverage any which way it wishes in order to appease sponsors while placing advertising spots wherever and whenever it chooses. Unfortunately, for the viewer, it denies the spontaneity of competition as well as deprives viewers from selectively choosing which sports they wish to watch.

NBC has bragged about providing 416 hours of broadcast coverage on NBC including its three cable television stations. But since these Winter Olympics first started airing its events on February 11, 2006 to date, viewers have been treated to little more than glorified highlights between 8:00 PM – 11:30 PM in whichever time zone one happens to be. During that time period, bits and pieces of coverage from any one of 15 sport disciplines are shown, with scant coverage of any athletes other than American Olympians or only winners of an event should they not be American.

We lose the continuity of viewing any one event such as alpine skiing, speed skating, ski jumping, or even bobsledding for that matter. Essentially, races necessitate competitors being seen in sequence or at least the contenders, rather than a cut and paste version of them. And while figure skating viewing requires less of a need for the immediacy of viewing other competitors in the event, one would be hard pressed as to when to plan on tuning in. Although more time is devoted to the figure skating events than most others, its coverage is peppered with teasers and unexpected commercial breaks in the action, making it sometimes painful to get through, even for its avid fans.

Since television coverage of the Olympics is all about ratings, as is all television fare, NBC for years now has shot itself in the proverbial foot when whining that not enough of the American public is tuning in to Olympics coverage, no longer just applicable to the Winter Olympics, either. While the Summer Olympics attracts more viewers, its coverage too is close to beyond the pale.

What NBC has tried to do over the years is to please all demographics as well as its sponsors while losing sight of the intrinsic value of the actual event. But as viewership continues to erode for Olympics coverage, the NBC network is largely responsible. In its zeal to compel the American viewer to tune in, it has overproduced its coverage, thus turning off the very audience it is trying to attract and retain.

The Olympics tells its own story and most sports fans do not have the patience to sit through over three hours of teaser-filled coverage. Now we all know the reason it is done this way. The hope is that viewers will sit through enough coverage in order to be exposed to advertisers as well as to garner more consistent ratings. But in fact, NBC is accomplishing the opposite result, forcing many to either record the coverage and thus eliminate the ads, or tuning out completely.

So what you say? Who cares? Well, chances are if you are reading this, you are a sports fan. Although we all have our favorite sport, we crave watching competition, with few exceptions. For example, the idea of watching curling is comparable to watching paint dry and how it is considered an athletic event is beyond this writer’s comprehension.

But for now, we are stuck with what we have. When the numbers are crunched this time ’round for NBC, perhaps they will get the message that the sports fan drives the numbers and more and more of us are getting fed up. Maybe they need to go back to the drawing board and revisit the Jim McKay playbook on covering worldwide sporting events. It worked for ABC broadcasting way back when, when the athletes were the story, not the network; sadly a crucial element which NBC seems to have forgotten. 스포츠중계


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