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Friday, August 10, 2012

Sport or Reality TV?

The Games of the XXX Olympiad are nearing their end in London.  NBC and it's family of networks have exclusive rights to broadcasting the Olympics here in the United States.  Since London is five hours ahead of New York City and nine hours ahead of Los Angeles, NBC has had a continuing dilemma about what events to show live during the American work day and what events to show on tape delay in prime time.

In this era of social media and ESPN alerts on smart phones, it has been almost impossible for any sports fan to avoid knowing the outcome of the big events before they are actually aired in primetime.  Of course, all events are streamed live on the Internet by NBC, but that is little consolation for folks who actually have a job during the day.  As a result, there has been a torrent of complaints from sports fans about NBC and the whole issue of taped delayed coverage.

I understand that NBC can't alter the time space continuum, so I'm not going to blame them for saving the marquis events for primetime.  And, I'm not going to blame NBC for the fact that tweets and Facebook updates spoiled a few events for me.  But, even when I managed to navigate the minefield of social media and Internet updates, I still found the NBC primetime coverage to be tremendously unsatisfying.  It took me a full week to realize what was wrong with the primetime coverage.  Then it dawned on me. NBC has not presented the Olympics like a sporting event.  NBC has presented the games like a reality TV show.

A prime example came on Thursday night.  When NBC came on the air on for their primetime coverage, they had an entire day's worth of taped events that they could have shown.  This included a women's gold medal water polo and soccer matches that included the United States, the U.S. women's volleyball team in an elimination round match, the U.S. women's basketball team in the semi-finals, the decathlon, the triple jump and Usain Bolt's highly anticipated 200m race.  Yet, NBC decided not to show any actual sports for the first 40 minutes of their coverage.  Instead, NBC showed Bob Costas recapping events that were not going to be shown, and they showed Ryan Seacrest doing his nightly segment about what people are discussing on Twitter.

But, even when NBC has shown sports at night, they have not shown those events in a manner that feels at all natural to a sports fan.  Games are not shown in their entirety.  Games are often joined "in progress" despite the fact that they actually ended eight hours ago.  NBC has also edited out part of matches and events and fast forwarded to the end.  And all this is done so as to make time for in studio interviews with random celebrities like Shaun White.

Why does any of this matter?  Because every sport has a natural rhythm and flow.  A basketball blowout is only impressive if you got to watch the will of the losing team be swept away  A soccer goal is far more exciting if you watched the 40 minutes of struggle that led up to it.  A fantastic floor routine is far more dramatic if you've watched the same athlete struggle on the pommel horse.  And a volleyball comeback is only exhilarating if you got to experience the momentum shift.

The time difference between the United States and London may have forced NBC into presenting marquis events in tape delay.  But the time difference did not force NBC to reduce the beauty of sport to the level of a reality TV show.


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