Albany Herald Sports Editor Danny Aller
Outside of The Office, Saturday Night Live and Sunday Night Football, I don’t watch a lot of shows on NBC. And after the way the Peacock has broadcast the 2012 Summer Olympics, I may just do like American athletes did in Moscow in 1980 and boycott the network altogether after the Games end today.
That’s how disappointed, mad and fed up I am with what’s transpired the last two weeks when it comes to trying to make sense of why NBC chose to deliver the Games to millions of Americans in the tape-delayed, refusal-to-show-anything-of-importance-on-live-television fashion that it did.
And I’m far from alone.
Whether you’ve experienced the frustration first-hand of trying to keep up in real time with what’s happening — which means doing the math of the five-hour time difference between here and London, constantly logging onto NBC’s official Olympic website and navigating through four or five different sections to see what’s being shown when by way of the only live stream available to those in the U.S. — or if you’re one of those who has been trying to do the virtually impossible by avoiding all human, television, radio, Internet and social media contact throughout the day in an effort not to have the primetime broadcast spoiled for you, the hoop-jumping is seemingly endless.
That frustration began for me just two days into the Games when my wife came home from work and asked me not to spoil for her who won the first Ryan Lochte-Michael Phelps showdown in the pool because she wanted to watch it later that night.
“I’ve been staying off my phone and Twitter and Facebook all day,” she said. “And I know you know who won, so please don’t tell me.”
Considering she, like many others in today’s world, usually spends a nice chunk of her time engrossed in those three media, it sounded like her day had already been ruined. So I made her an offer I thought might cheer her up.
I would become her Olympic hero.
“It’s actually about to be shown live online, and I’m gettin’ ready to watch it right now,” I said, tilting my laptop in her direction. “That way, you don’t have to wait, and you can return to normalcy and get back online so our friends and family won’t think you’ve been kidnapped.”
She seemed surprised to find out it was, in fact, available live, and we deduced that the reason she didn’t know was both simple and sneaky all in one: NBC had done such an intentionally poor job of promoting the Games’ real-time availability online that even the most savvy, regular Internet users — such as herself — had no idea it could be seen anywhere but between the hours of 8 p.m. and midnight on the network’s main channel.
Heck, I only knew I could watch it online because leading up to the start of the Games I read somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen stories on The Herald’s news wire in which NBC execs could constantly be found defending their decisions to tape-delay all the good stuff.
So she slid into the seat next to me on the couch, and we waited for the race to start.
And we waited ... and waited ... and waited.
“I thought it was about to start,” she said as what seemed like the 15th ad for McDonalds or AT&T popped up -- in the middle of the stream, no less.
“It says, ‘Lochte vs. Phelps in 400M Individual Medley finals, 3 p.m.,’ ” I replied, pointing to the screen as I looked at the clock, which now showed 3:30. “I guess they do that so you will log on, watch all these prelims of other races, and you’re forced to sit through a million ads.”
“Clever,” she said sarcastically as she got up and left the room, calling out as she walked away, “well, I guess just lemme know when it starts.”
About 15 minutes later, the swimmers made their way out and began to line up in their lanes. I told her we were close, and she returned.
Unfortunately, a decent number of folks around the world must’ve had the same idea as us, because as the race got closer and closer, the feed — which had been fine up until that point, but clearly wasn’t able to handle the traffic now — began to slow down and get hung up. And by the time it stopped “buffering” and got caught up, the swimmers had already dived in the pool.
Then the feed buffered again, and by the time it returned, the first 100 meters were over. Then we missed the next 100 … and the next … and the next, before the feed finally came back down the home stretch.
But just when there was about 25 meters or so left, the Buffer Monster (as I like to call him) came back.
When the picture finally returned live, all we heard was the announcer yelling, “AND LOCHTE TAKES THE GOLD! HE’S BEATEN PHELPS, WHO FINISHES WAY BACK IN FOURTH!”
As I went from potential Olympic hero to the moron who had just spoiled the race for her, I nervously glanced in my wife’s direction.
The look on her face said it all.
“Seriously?” she asked as she clicked back on her phone and got up to leave. “Well ... that was awesome. Thanks, NBC.”
It was shortly after that race — and the shared ruined experience experienced by hundreds of thousands around the world — that the Twitter hashtag #NBCFail was born as a way for disgruntled Olympic fans to express their displeasure with how the coverage was being brought to us.
“America, I hear that NBC/Universal has the Olympics until 2020,” wrote a user who lives in the UK. “You have the world’s condolences. #NBCFail.” (To be fair, those who support NBC’s wacky coverage created their own hashtag, #NBCSuccess, but the number of mentions for #NBCFail dwarf the former).
We have their condolences, mind you, because the BBC Network across the pond is airing everything live — and on a multitude of different channels. Of course, they’re in the same time zone as London, so you would expect nothing less, right?
Well, what about Canada, for example? Our neighbors to the north who share every one of our time zones? Well, if this doesn’t make you angry, I’m not sure what will: Canada has three stations dedicated to the Olympics, and all of them are airing the events live, as well as offering an online product that — by all accounts — hasn’t had any major hiccups for the entire Games.
Unfortunately, that UK tweeter is right: NBC does have the rights to the Olympics (summer and winter) through 2020, so the chances of seeing a change any time soon is about as likely as Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson actually beating Usain Bolt in a foot race (which CJ has claimed he could do).
Speaking of Bolt, after the Lochte-Phelps viewing debacle at the outset of the Games, I downloaded the “LIVE NBC Olympics” ap on my phone so I could have two ways to watch my next live event, just in case one of them crapped out.
That didn’t work so well either.
If the Buffer Monster didn’t rear its ugly head again during the live showing on my phone, then the quality of the video became so garbled that it was a cross between trying to watch a scrambled movie channel and a horror flick where all the characters’ faces looked like distorted amoebas.
The sports website deadspin.com, which has been hammering NBC from the get-go for its decision to present the Olympics like this, created a post after the men’s 100-meter final won by Bolt — the one athlete we’ve all been waiting with baited breath for four years to see compete again.
Next to a screen shot of the aforementioned fuzzy feed, it read:
“Take A Look At NBC’s Feed Of Usain Bolt’s Record Setting 100m Performance”
The subhead then read: “Just kidding, don’t waste your time. In this space, we’re going to talk about how pitiful NBC’s online product has been.”
And that’s just one of countless legitimate criticisms; I could go on forever.
But it’s not just NBC’s online product that has taken a public beating. The television viewing has been suspect, at best.
Sure, CNBC and MSNBC aired live events every day — but those events were about as boring as they come. I don’t know about you, but I don’t traditionally tune into the Olympics to watch equestrian dressage, water polo or a bunch of badminton teams trying to intentionally lose matches. So why the main NBC network thought this was a good idea to show these types of sports live over, say, ANY of the track & field, soccer or basketball, I have no idea. I mean, I probably would’ve watched the 10,000-meter final if they’d aired it live. That’s how desperate I’ve become to view these Games — Games that may very well go down as the “Lost Olympics.”
At least bravo to Bravo for airing all of the tennis live, and kudos to the NBC Sports Network for showing soccer and basketball live. That much I do care about, and thankfully, NBC didn’t try to tape-delay those events until the evening. The last thing anyone wants to do is sit through a three-hour tennis, soccer or hoops matchup that you already know the outcome of.
Speaking of soccer, why in the world was the U.S. women’s semifinal match against Canada — a game between neighboring rivals that went down as one of the most exciting matches in Olympic history when the Americans scored with 30 seconds left in stoppage time of the second overtime — not shown on NBC’s main network? Or what about the final between the U.S. and Japan?
I turned NBC on at least one of these days when soccer was being played and found them showing men’s indoor volleyball between European countries. This is America, NBC, and we’re leading in the medal count, meaning we have a ton of athletes in different sports who are dominating. Showing us a Norway vs. Italy men’s volleyball match is a sure-fire way to drive viewers totally away.
That could’ve been such an easy switch: put volleyball on the NBC Sports Network — a station not everyone gets, airing a sport only a small minority wants to watch — and soccer on NBC, which EVERYONE (even those who still use rabbit-ear antennas) can get.
As for those juicy primetime telecasts for those who were fortunate during the day not to be exposed to the outcomes before they watched? Well, they wouldn’t be that bad if it wasn’t for the fact that the coverage ends up being three hours of fluff pieces and about an hour of actual action.
And by the way, NBC? You’re not fooling anyone when you run a feature on an athlete before their event. We’re smart enough to know that said athlete is about to go out and smoke the competition and win some kind of medal (probably gold) — otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered to waste the manpower or air time to feature them.
In essence, the features you spent so much time on crafting become nothing more than 10-minute spoilers. If the coverage was live, then the event following that feature would truly become everything that makes sports, and especially the Olympics, great: the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
And the fact that NBC won’t even air live events on the weekend — when most of us are off work and at home relaxing with the ability to watch sports if we so choose — is just inexplicable.
The only redeeming quality, in my opinion, of the primetime telecasts is Bob Costas, whose silky, smooth voice, delivery and poignant analysis could make me tune in to watch him even if he was calling shuffleboard in Boca Raton.
Although, I have noticed that he tends to speak while always being tilted to one side, as if he’s secretly trying to break wind under the desk.
But I digress, because now I’m really just nitpicking.
The reality is that NBC can be better, and they should learn from their mistakes this time before the next go-’round. The 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, aren’t far away, and Sochi is eight hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone, while Rio is only one hour ahead. No way they’d pull the same tape-delay junk again, right?
Who knows? Better keep that #NBCFail Twitter account active, just in case.
Granted, the Peacock claims the ratings for the 2012 Games — even with all the negative feedback — are through the roof, but I venture a guess that that’s only because viewers are resigned to the fact that, “This is just the way it is, and if we want to watch a truly amazing series of sporting events on television that only comes around every four years -- without fighting the Buffer Monster and distorted amoebas on the Internet — we just have to accept it.”
There are too many suggestions from viewers floating around out there on how to improve NBC’s coverage going forward to list; that’d have to be an entirely other column for another day.
The crux of nearly every idea, however, is to simply show everything live — with the marquee events appearing exclusively on the main NBC channel — and only tape-delay a late-night package of highlights for those who merely want to get caught up on all the day’s events before bed. Kind of like an Olympics Sportscenter.
I feel sad that today is the end. I guess I just feel cheated. I didn’t get to really experience the Olympics the way they are supposed to be experienced — live, raw and unfolding in a truly dramatic fashion as everyone, collectively, watches on the edge of their seats at the same time around the world.
Hey, at least the closing ceremonies tonight won’t be tape-delayed.
Oh, wait ... yes they will.
In that case, I think I’ll just skip it and watch a rerun of The Office.