The Winter Olympics have come to a close, and needless to say, it was an all-around disappointing two weeks for Team USA. As the biggest stars failed to deliver and the team faltered in many marquee events, NBC took a particularly big hit, with ratings down as much as 35 percent from four years ago.
Perhaps it's better that fewer people tuned in to this year's No-Name Olympics. Between technical issues in NBC's valiant effort to stream every event and questionable editorial decisions in the network's prime-time broadcasts, lots of things left me cringing more than Bob Costas's devil eye.
Let's just get this out of the way: It really was a noble goal to stream every event live on NBC's Olympics website. Those of us who work in sports or otherwise wanted watch the live feed were afforded that opportunity. But what was a brilliant idea in theory fell apart in practice.
First of all, the ads. So many ads. So many of the very same ads. As in most televised sports, the digital advertising pool is limited to those few, huge companies that meet a spending minimum in television. That means that during any single event, you were probably inundated with a loop of the same Procter & Gamble/Coca-Cola/Visa ads, um, ad nauseam. But that wasn't even the worst part of the NBC streaming ad experience. No, the worst part was watching an incredibly exciting, split-second moment, waiting for the replay, and then having an ad interrupt at the least opportune moment. Again, props for trying to avoid playing ads during actual game play, but a sport like hockey is so fast-paced that replays are integral to the viewing experience. Several fans were understandably frustrated with NBC's unintelligent and inelegant timing of ads.
To me, however, the worst part about NBC's Olympic streaming was the one thing the network took great pains (to its own detriment, as I'll detail later) to avoid: spoilers. The video player streaming the actual event was accompanied by a live Twitter feed -- again, a great game plan, but NBC faltered in its execution. While the video stream had a delay of several seconds, the Twitter stream was in real time. So if you were looking forward to watching the final lap of Shani Davis's 1,000-meter speedskate, too bad -- the tweet next to the video already told you he lost before you saw him cross the finish line.
Censorship, or 'Editing'
After a coordinated effort among various NBC properties to remind us of the various terrorist threats, human-rights violations, gay-rights protests, potential money laundering and infrastructure inadequacies of the host country, the network made the utterly baffling decision to edit out a portion of IOC President Thomas Bach's speech during the opening ceremony, specifically remarks advocating tolerance and decrying discrimination. Did they think we wouldn't notice? Why would they choose this particular moment to attempt to avoid controversy?
Furthermore, you'd think NBC would have learned from past mistakes, but the network apparently cut more than 50 minutes of Sunday night's prime time airing of the closing ceremony, approximately 38.4 percent of the broadcast. NBC notably chose to cut much of the ceremony that featured Russian President Vladimir Putin. If the network was trying to send some sort of statement, this was again an odd way to go about it, given how prominently discussion of Putin was featured in its coverage. Just this past Friday, Costas went off on the Russian government's authoritarian approach to political opposition as well as its role in the crises in Ukraine and Syria. That NBC would choose to arbitrarily sterilize two major broadcasts like the opening and closing ceremonies is simply inexplicable.
The Bode Miller Fiasco
If you want an instance in which NBC probably should have self-censored, look no further than the disastrous interview with Bode Miller after his bronze-medal performance in the super-G. NBC's Christin Cooper hammered Miller on the subject of his brother Chelone Miller, who died last April and featured heavily in the long and complicated back story to Miller's Olympic run. As many have noted, a journalist's job is to ask tough questions, but also to know when and where to draw the line. Cooper -- a former skier, not a reporting veteran -- was right to ask about Miller's brother in the first place, but she should have moved on to a new line of questioning after the second or third question. Instead, Miller broke down in tears, and Cooper came away from the interview facing criticism of badgering her subject.
Who's Calling the Game?
NBC is very fortunate to boast an extremely talented broadcasting crew. From Costas to Al Michaels, the network features some of the most iconic voices in sports. For the Winter Games' niche events, NBC also employs former athletes whose expertise is integral to helping an audience that only cares about these sports every four years understand what they're watching.
Which is why it's absolutely infuriating that NBC chose to substitute its broadcasting teams between the live air and the prime time broadcast in the widely viewed figure skating. As Deadspin noted, the live crew of former Olympians Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir and rounded out by Terry Gannon did a fantastic job of mixing personality with actual, useful analysis. Meanwhile, the prime-time crew of Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton, Canadian champion Sandra Bezic and Tom Hammond (whose figure skating expertise has yet to be determined) were a grim contrast. While Hamilton actually contributed helpful technical explanation, Bezic and Hammond's commentary was too insipidly vague to add any kind of value to casual figure skating audiences not particularly learned in the sport's intricacies and complicated scoring system.
If you think I'm being too harsh, there's a bevy of tweeters ready to voice their own #nbcfail frustrations.
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