Archive for the ‘Olympics’ Category

Dramatic, thrilling, suspenseful, competitive, patriotic. These are just a few of the reasons why we love the Olympics, and it’s now safe to say that NBC has lost the vision of why they really matter. Although the $1.18 billion it paid for the exclusive rights to London 2012 gives it the right to broadcast the content in any way it sees fit, the games have become a spoon-fed sequence of non-sequential events; “The Bachelor” in sport form. I take no issue with NBC’s decision to put most high-profile events on tape-delay, but the theatrical presentation has become nearly unbearable.

At best, it’s a brilliant choreography of production, editing and storytelling. A real-life puzzle poetically arranged to deliver the best stories at the best times to the greatest amount of viewers. At worst, it’s a slap in the face to true drama, a fabricated pastiche of sports television and an admission from NBC that it doesn’t believe that its viewers can enjoy the Olympics for their true value. It also may be a final goodbye to the Olympic drama of the past and a requiem to the suspense that used to define the games, delivered condescendingly and without apology to an American public that deserves better.

NBC has treated us like barnyard animals feeding at a trough, waiting with anticipation and hunger for the next story that it considers to be worthy.The winner? When NBC televised three swimming events and a set of volleyball before Gabby Douglas’ final, gold medal-winning floor exercise routine during the women’s all-around final in an attempt to manufacture drama. Did it not realize that the vast majority of its audience already knew the result? Just show it to us already and let millions of young American girls watch their new idol win gold while still getting to bed at a reasonable hour.

It’s interesting that despite NBC’s best attempts to alienate its viewers, ratings thus far have been huge. NBC had predicted a 20 percent ratings decline from Beijing in 2008 but instead has enjoyed a 9 percent increase. In addition, through Wednesday, an average of 35.6 million viewers had tuned in per night. Unfortunately, the network has brushed off the vitriol spewing from the collective voice of journalists, bloggers and social media users, calling them the “loud minority.” Twitter has been especially vocal, with many users lambasting NBC for its tape-delayed coverage in the “Twitter age.” Twitter has been the primary catalyst driving the rapid acceleration of news and, in some cases, shoddy, “me-first” reporting, but NBC is literally staring it in the face and saying, “We just don’t care.” Actually, I don’t see the logic in complaining about the tape-delay due to NBC’s outstanding decision to live-stream almost every single event online.

But, instead of responding to the social media outrage by directing users to register for the live streams, NBC has brushed the criticism aside and let its prime-time ratings do the talking. This logic is anything but impeccable. People watch the Olympics because they love the Olympics, not because they love NBC’s coverage. In the process, it has broken one of the principal rules of business by ignoring the most vocal, influential and tech-savvy consumers. That’s what is usually known as a short-sighted approach to business. A business’ most vocal and influential customers will always be a minority, and rejecting their opinions is unwise. The Twitterverse should be buzzing with compliments on the quality of the online video streams and how it’s nice to watch the events live from the office, not with relentless criticism and hashtags like #NBCFail. It’s NBC’s fault that the focus is on the tape-delayed prime-time coverage and not the innovative, ground-breaking live streams.

Although there undoubtedly are millions of Americans with no cable, satellite or telco subscription, which is required to view the online streams, it’s only a small hassle to register on NBCOlympics.com. Reportedly, the live feeds have been quite dependable, including streams for apps on iPhones, Android and tablets. But here’s the problem, and by the way, these statistics come straight from an NBC press release on August 3:


London 2012 Beijing 2008
NBCOlympics.com computer 31.5 million 29.1 million
NBCOlympics.com mobile website 5.2 million 2.8 million
NBC Olympics Live Extra app 7.0 million NA
NBC Olympics app 2.7 million NA

Okay, so that looks pretty good. There’s clearly a bit of overlap, so for simplicity’s sake, let’s say that there have been 40 million unique users in total. Care to venture a guess as to how many cable, satellite or telco subscriptions have been verified out of those 40 million unique users?

6.2 million.

Standing on its own, that is clearly a huge number and represents how far we’ve come in the digital age. However, 6.2/40 = .155. So, 15.5 percent of all unique visitors to NBC’s various online platforms are registering with their cable, satellite or telco subscriptions to watch live streams. That’s not good.

NBC already owns the rights to every Olympics until 2020, so hopefully the failures in London will serve as a learning experience. As mobile use continues to skyrocket, it should continue to simplify the online registration process and add features for future games for users who want to live stream. But, it absolutely must reconsider its current strategy of only televising high-profile events during prime-time. The problems could be easily fixed by simply airing these in-demand events live on NBC, CNBC, MSNBC or NBCSN and then again on tape-delay for those who couldn’t watch during the day.

If this happens, Wheel of Fortune fans will mourn. But fortunately, true fans of sport will rejoice.


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Oscar Pistorius“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records” – William Arthur Ward

For every evil, there is an equal and opposite good. Although that’s not exactly what Newton meant, I’m sure he would approve of the slight modification. After an exhausting few months of Penn State and Jerry Sandusky dominating headlines, it seems right that the perfect protagonist has emerged to rebalance the scale. The South African Olympic Committee announced today that double-amputee Oscar Pistorius, the Blade Runner, will be a part of the team running the 400 meters and the 4×400 relay. In doing so, he will become the first amputee athlete to ever compete at the Olympic Games.

What this isn’t is a sappy, cloying personal interest story that NBC uses to keep non-sports fans tuned in. Pistorius has achieved something truly extraordinary, something transcendent. He has achieved something that was not thought possible – the mere suggestion that a double amputee could compete in the Olympics – in sprints – would have been laughed at before Pistorius began his ascent to the top. Most of us can wake up every day and be thankful that we can roll out of bed and land safely, if not deftly, on our own two feet. Oscar Pistorius has no such luxury. He was born without fibulae in his legs and had them amputated just below the knee when he was 11 months old. Turns out, he was fine without them because of what he was born with: more courage, determination and perseverance than most of us could ever hope to have. As Charles Portis would say, he was born with True Grit.

I can’t learn anything from him on what it’s like to live without legs. Neither can anyone else who has a fully present and functioning lower half. In fact, Oscar Pistorius hasn’t taught us anything because he hasn’t needed to. He has shown us. He has stared disability, disadvantage and sometimes disdain in the face and literally outran them. Instead of giving in to one of the most legitimate excuses we’ve ever seen in sport, he used all the tools at his disposal – toughness, skill, hard work, and yes, a little bit of science – to achieve the unachievable. Pistorius has shown us that we can overcome any obstacle, no matter how great. He has given people around the world an example to point to that directly refutes the phrase, “No, I can’t.”

It doesn’t really matter if he medals in London. In fact, he probably won’t. But if he, or the 4×400 relay team gives the performance of a lifetime, the sight of Pistorius leaning forward on his carbon-fiber blades as a medal is draped around his neck would be one of the most inspirational moments in sports history and an enduring image in the minds of anyone that calls themselves a sports fan. More than that, it would be something that disabled people all over the world could look to as a historic moment of equality, an affirmation of acceptance and an inspiration to fight on. And if he doesn’t win a medal, it really doesn’t matter. He’s already accomplished what should have been impossible.

In a world that’s cluttered with villains, criminals and miscreants like a certain prisoner in the Pennsylvania state prison system, the story of Oscar Pistorius provides a welcome relief. A 30 for 30 certainly is not far off, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a movie is in the works as well. He would probably have to play himself, because I would think the market for stunt doubles that can sprint a 45 second 400 on two blades is pretty small.

The Olympics are still a few weeks away, but I absolutely cannot wait to watch Pistorius run and represent his country. Pistorius is not a passenger on this ride, and his competitors should not take him lightly. Throughout his life, he’s shown the ability and the desire to prove everyone wrong, and no one should be surprised if he does it again in London.

Update: Perhaps Pistorius’ success brought him too close to perfection, too close to sublime – Icarus incarnate. He now awaits trial for the murder of his ex-girlfriend in South Africa. Perhaps a more appropriate quote to have begun the story with would have been from Abraham Lincoln – “Nearly all man can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

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