Gaming the Olympics

If I try to be generous to American television broadcasting giant, NBC, I would say that, in their packaging of the London 2012 Olympic coverage, they are trying to save us all from undue stress and strain, and to ease the burden on the nation’s health system. But, I cannot give them that. When I have spoken to other people about being able to watch events live, views have been mixed to negative. Those who have time and opportunity to watch events as they happen are miffed that they have to wait until the prime time hours of 8pm-midnight to see the suspension-of-disbelief repacking of athletes (mainly Americans) going for gold and glory. It’s so funny, because the 8pm start time is wherever you are in the US: those on the west coast, for instance, have the agony of keeping friends from east of them from blurting out in social media or email or by phone what NBC is showing. Or, those in places other than the eastern time zone, can have the benefit of friends telling them how to organize their evenings by alerting them to when certain events will be aired on NBC. Whoo-hoo!

Of course, NBC has been showing a lot of live Olympic action. However, apart from football aka soccer, basketball, and tennis–where, admittedly, the USA has a lot of talent and real medal interest, the known popular Olympic sports such as swimming and track and field have been spared our live television eyes. Live streaming on the Internet of some of the live action could compensate in part, for some, but it’s also the case that many may not find it as enjoyable to try to watch on a laptop or mobile phone screen. Huddling around an iPhone or computer screen is just less cozy than lounging in a big room on the coach with that larger screen display. For some, that is much better than waiting until night fall to watch or not see at all: the tennis–having been on live–never seems to feature in any of the evening rebroadcasts. I’m giving the live streaming a try today on my iPhone, so that I can get a good dose of track and field into my nervous system.

Better writers than I, including a few now celebrated journalists, have taken NBC to task over their policy and paid a price (see story of Guy Adams having his Twitter account suspended then unsuspended after an uproar on Twitter). Loud minority? If true, so what? A minority could be small or very significant. The matter is do you just want to be satisfied that the majority may not be loud or may not feel pressed to put their view out in public?

NBC is not backing down in face of the criticism, though admits to being prepared to ‘innovate’ its coverage. The bottom line is that the corporate goals of NBC are being helped greatly by what they are doing. They are likely to have a profit from their coverage package, rather than a whopping loss that came out of the Vancouver Olympics coverage: “NBC’s affiliates, advertisers, and partners are all happy”. Show me the money! The ratings have been great, according to the statistics. But, the juiced coverage was for that reason, n’est ce pas? So, that’s a “Duh” in my eyes. Talking about more live coverage than packaged coverage is also a bit of statistical silliness: broadcasting hours of all things live during the day (beach volleyball, judo, boxing, soccer, basketball, tennis, etc.) will be more than 4 hours packaged for prime time (though, I’m interested how they treat the sliding coverage over the US time zones). Iz de qwality of wot iz being broadcast pon de televizion dat’s at hissue!

NBC, bless them, do not want me to have that pleasure of really not knowing, and all the vicarious underside of speculating as things unfold. All the nail-biting suspense has to be compressed into the 4 hour window instead of being played out all day. Maybe, it will boost productivity as people ensure that all they need to do is done before 8pm rather than wasting valuable work time goofing off all day. Television producers have gotten so used to putting everything into episodes that real life events need to fit into that box, too. Reality television has become popular, but it too is based on the notion that you can get a certain amount of thrills into a specific time window. We should have known this would happen once we were pushed in the direction of ‘must finish’ rules such as tie-breakers and penalty shoot outs. Advertising time was sold and we could not just have sporting events dragging on in their own sweet way with a finish not clearly in sight. Oh, how sweet it would have been to not have to see Isner and Mahut play out their epic fifth set at Wimbledon and settle for a 7-6 tie-break finish. Even sweeter, to have seen Federer and del Potro play out a tie-breaker for the 3rd set semi in the London Olympic and not the super-drama of wondering if Federer would be denied his chance to go for that elusive gold medal. With that match ending in a 19-17 game win for Federer who knows what might have happened if all of that nerve-jangling were to spread.

It’s the adrenalin rush of watching drama unfold that is a big part of seeing events live. As I watch Serena Williams seeming to demolish Maria Sharapova while I write, I think I know the likely outcome, but comebacks are possible. But, I do not know the outcome and want to stick it out. The score is now 6-0, 3-0, but Sharapova just won her 1st game, so the fight back is on. The fact that Williams had to take a few bathroom breaks before the match had been highlighted by the NBC commentator at the start of the match that nerves were playing a big part. They were? No! That’s part of being in the moment. Now that the match is over at 6-0, 6-1, it seems that Serena got her nerves to calm down. Her inability to put together a sentence in front of immediate post-match questions also shows that the thrill is still very much working on her nerves 🙂 Her little bit of boogie dancing immediately after her win also shows what you see happen when it happens. Will it be edited later?

As I wait in hope of seeing on television some live track and field today (and I understand that the 10,000 metres may be shown live–whoo-hoo, again), I will endure some live soccer on a big screen as grown men tussle with the leather ball to get semi-final places. I will decide if the wildly popular spring-board diving is for me, too. Of course, live basketball is on: USA vs Lithuania. Senegal just pulled back a goal versus Mexico: plenty of time to go and who knows how that will end up. My iPhone Internet stream of NBC Live Extra is running, as I see replays of the morning session of track and field–and it looks like I can choose which session to watch, and it’s a British commentary, so a nice change from the US style ;-), which is often ‘comment’ not ‘commentary’.

I found a work around and am happy in my own way, I guess. Oh! Senegal just tied the game, and 15 minutes of regulation time to go. I love live action! Please don’t tell NBC.


About The Grasshopper

Professional international economist, recently retired from an international organization. I use blogging as a way of organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, and spent many years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for a few decades, and worked and travelled abroad extensively. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of girls. Also, married to an economist.
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