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Big Brother Comes to The Olympics, or “How NBC and The IOC Are In League To Deny You Live Coverage” February 23, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Broadcast/Internet.
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UPDATE: See my thoughts about the London Games here.

And you thought the Cold War Olympics were over?

I wrote a few days ago about how NBC has ruined the Olympics for me. A few thousand page views and dozens of comments later, I’m seeing a larger picture.

And boy, is it disturbing.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) counts on American broadcast rights to help finance the games. NBC and its parent company, GE, paid the IOC a record $2.2 billion for exclusive rights for the 2010 Vancouver and 2012 London Games.

An integral part of the agreement: All International Olympic Internet feeds are blocked to those residing in the U.S.; and for those who don’t subscribe to cable or satellite television, even NBC’s Internet feeds are unavailable.

Which means, if you live in the U.S., you do not have legal access to free or live Olympic coverage from any source.In today’s technological age, this is an outrage.

Are you getting this? Does it sound a little like living in Iran or China? But instead of government censorship, it’s corporate for-profit totalitarianism. Think of the larger implications of this statement. Americans are being force fed news of this event from the perspective of one single news source, with no timely alternatives. Are you angry yet?

I understand the mutually beneficial relationship between NBC (advertising revenues resulting from exclusive broadcast rights) and the IOC, and can only hope that NBC will lose its broadcast rights by the time 2014 rolls around for its poor coverage. But that’s just wishful thinking — there’s no evidence to suggest that anything other than money talks to the IOC; and NBC has already expressed its intention to bid for the 2014 and 2016 Games.

The wall won’t fall on its own because, despite the almost universal disparagement of NBC’s coverage, the network has inexplicably logged the largest ratings of any Winter Games since 1994. But as mobile and wireless evolve quickly, there will be more and more fires for the IOC and NBC to put out to prevent us from finding ways to watch. At some point, those little fires will become a wildfire of public control that the IOC will be unable to extinguish.

Let’s hope it happens soon.

Feel free to contact the FCC: http://www.fcc.gov/contacts.html


10 Reasons Why NBC Should Lose Its Olympic Broadcast Rights; Or “How I Learned To Hate The Coolest Sporting Event In The World” February 18, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Broadcast/Internet.
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UPATE: A followup to this post can be read here… and another one on the London Games here.

NBC has really managed to make a mess of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics — even more than usual. I love the Olympics and am saddened that NBC has made them so painfully unwatchable, even for me:

  1. The commercials are relentless. Coverage of actual sporting events are given slots of between 3 and 9 minutes at a time, however long it takes one or two athletes to compete. Then we go to 3.5 minutes of commercials. Time it: I did. Throw in time for the talking heads and shallow featurettes, and only 51 percent of every hour turns out to be actual Olympic footage.
  2. Which geniuses at the network decided there would be No Live Coverage? There is scarcely any Olympic coverage at all during the day. None of the coverage is actually live on the U.S. West Coast, which shares a time zone with Vancouver. For example, I watched the broadcast of women’s downhill skiing last night a full 11 hours after it actually happened. Not only did I already know the outcome (a result of having this thing called the Internet), but I also knew in advance who took a spill and who took the early lead and lost it. There’s no joy of as-it-happens sport, no excitement. Dull, dull, dull.
  3. My kids can’t watch the Olympics. NBC insists on showing the Olympics during prime time, delaying all coverage for multiple hours. When prime time starts at 8 p.m., my kids are in bed. It would be nice to inspire American children, teach them about sports, teamwork, excellence and the wider world — but NBC doesn’t make it easy.
  4. Forget my kids — I can’t stay up! I’d have loved to have seen Shaun White and Lindsay Vonn receive their gold medals last night, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open until almost midnight, when the award ceremonies were apparently broadcast.
  5. NBC has ADD. If NBC is going to package a whole day of Olympic coverage into a nightly 4-hour highlight reel, why is it so impossible to cover one event completely before launching into the next one? I’m talking about the constant skipping around: showing three skaters compete, then switching gears to snowboarding, then going back again, and maybe throwing a few interviews, soundtrack highlights and features in between. People, this is not live coverage. So why does it appear that NBC can’t find its editing room?
  6. Extreme American-centricity. Go Team USA. I get it. I feel it. But during the Olympics, I’d like to hear about people from around the globe, not only Americans. After all, isn’t the international coming together of the athletes and the ensuing drama the real thrill of the Olympics? You wouldn’t know it from watching NBC.
  7. NBC crushes on a select few athletes. Shaun White. Lindsey Jacobellis. Apolo Ohno. Johnny Weir. Yeah, they’re great. But the United States has 212 other outstanding athletes with great stories also competing in Vancouver, not to mention the thousands of other Olympians gathered in the Olympic Village in Vancouver. It got so bad early on that some friends and I conceived of a new drinking game: anytime the camera rested on Shaun or Lindsey, take a drink!
  8. Lame stories. Sure, I want to hear about the athletes and their stories. That’s part of the fun and it brings the human aspect to the Games. But a few nights ago I learned, courtesy of a quite detailed and long feature by Mary Carillo, more than I needed to know about polar bears and ecotourism in Manitoba. Now, Churchill, Manitoba is in the Hudson Bay area of Canada: more than 2,000 miles from Vancouver. One question: What did this have to do with the Olympics? Sadly, this is the kind of “storytelling” we’re seeing every night on NBC.
  9. The interviews are horrendous. Pedantic, stilted, amateurish. I can’t even watch.
  10. And: There are no viable alternatives! For a while, some friends were able to watch a live Bulgarian feed on the Internet, but apparently that no longer works. Exhaustive searches have revealed no other alternatives for Americans that I know of. Stuck with NBC. Wah-wah.

NBC isn’t the network that is bringing Americans the Olympics. It’s the network that’s preventing us from watching them —  from really participating in this two-week period of international goodwill and athletic exhibition that happens only every four years.

Now: Your turn. What’s your take?!

UPATE: Followups to this post can be read here and here.

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