NBC Olympic coverage: Is the Internet the enemy?

The network apparently has no interest in maximizing viewer interest in the games

A year and a half ago I wrote that I expected the Beijing Olympics would be "the last pre-Internet Olympics," but I was wrong. The Vancouver Olympics has established that NBC has no interest in maximizing viewer interest in the games, or in minimizing the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars it says it will suffer from covering the event.

I will not say much about NBC's decision to broadcast most of the more important events in the Vancouver Olympics during prime time via tape delay. This is bad enough on the East Coast of the United States where the time difference means that at least some things, such as the opening ceremony, are broadcast live. But it's ridiculous on the West Coast where viewers have to wait three hours to see coverage of events taking place just up the coast. Rather, many commentators have already discussed this silliness at length and often with more color than I can use in this publication.

The technology behind the Vancouver Olympic games

Instead I want to talk about NBC's technical time warp. As far as one can tell, NBC is caught in the mid 1980s when it comes to the Internet.

In that pre-Web age it was rare, but not unheard of, for the Internet to be used to be bring information in real time to people around the world.

It is now a very long time, in Internet years at least, since the mid-1980s but one could hardly tell when looking at the NBC Olympics Web site. If you go to the video page and ask to view the "full live streaming schedule" you get a quite pathetic and limited list of events. When I looked on Feb. 14, curling and hockey were the only sports listed. Wikipedia says that there are 14 sports and more than 80 events during the winter Olympic games.

Most of these events will not be shown on TV in the United States. The video is available since almost all of the events are being shown on TV or streamed over the Internet in other countries. It would not cost NBC all that much to stream the events it will not be covering on its shows. Such coverage, particularly of training and preliminary events, would increase interest in the finals, at least some of which NBC will be carrying. But that would make too much sense.

It sure looks like NBC is terrified of the Internet, and wants to have as little to do with it as the broadcaster can possibly get away with. Sadly, this is not an unusual reaction in the content business.

NBC further cripples the few things it does stream by requiring people to prove that they subscribe to NBC "partners." I have no idea why NBC feels that it is important to make it harder for people to watch its coverage, and one assumes, the ads shown during the shows.

For what it's worth, I think NBC would get a lot of extra viewers if it simultaneously streamed its regular coverage without the incessant babble of announcers. I, for one, would have liked to have seen the opening ceremony the way the organizers put it on without the chauvinistic verbal diarrhea that was the soundtrack on NBC. I wound up watching it with the sound off.

Maybe next time there will be someone at NBC who was raised in the Internet age and understands that the Internet is here to stay and can be a useful tool. But I'm not holding my breath.

Disclaimer: I hope that neither the law nor business school teach the techniques of verbal diarrhea practiced so well by the NBC commentators and I've not heard that the NBC commentators learned their trade at Harvard, so the above TV (and non-Internet) review is mine alone.

Read more about lans and wans in Network World's LANs & WANs section.

This story, "NBC Olympic coverage: Is the Internet the enemy?" was originally published by Network World.

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