Dear NBC, Stop Ruining the Olympics

Posted: July 29, 2012 in Uncategorized
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We’re two days into the Olympics, and so far I have experienced more frustration than enjoyment. This frustration has nothing to do with Michael Phelps missing the podium in the 400-meter individual medley, Jordyn Wieber failing to qualify for the all-around finals in gymnastics, or the men’s swimming 4×100-meter freestyle relay team settling for silver, though. Nope. This frustration comes from not being able to watch any of those events live.

See, NBC isn’t showing any of the major events (swimming, gymnastics, track, etc.) in real time. They’re showing them on tape delay in primetime, because that way they make more money. If you want to watch those events live, you have to watch them online on NBC’s Live Extra. It sounds like an OK enough idea in theory, but the problem is that the online feed has been awful. It’s choppy, it cuts in and out, and it sometimes freezes for minutes on end. And I have Verizon Fios, so it’s not like I’m stuck in the days of dial-up or anything.

I couldn’t get the feed to work at all Saturday, but fortunately for me, I was out most of the day and managed to stay away from the internet until the 400 IM was shown in primetime. I wasn’t so lucky Sunday. I went to NBC’s website just to look at the TV schedule, and staring right at me on the homepage were the results of the gymnastics event that wasn’t going to be on TV until that night. Go to the Boston Globe’s website or the New York Times’ website to catch up on the regular news, and they already have the results on their front page, too.

My point here is that in 2012, it is pretty much impossible to go seven or eight hours without finding out the results. The only way to do it is to completely cut yourself off from the world. It’s not even as simple as avoiding Twitter and Facebook. It’s avoiding every news website. You can’t even go to your Google or Yahoo homepage. And you better hope none of your friends text you either.

Do all that, and then you just might be able to enjoy the Olympics the way they were meant to be enjoyed. Only then will you be able to experience the excitement and anxiety of watching athletes compete on the world’s biggest stage, live. I’ve seen people make the argument that, well, if you don’t want to know the results, you should avoid all those things. To me, that misses the point. Checking the news and being on Twitter are things I do every day. I shouldn’t have to sacrifice daily routines in order to enjoy the Olympics.

I’ll still watch NBC’s primetime coverage every night, but it just isn’t the same when you already know the results. You’re just watching. You’re not feeling anything. You don’t jump out of your seat as Ryan Lochte pulls away from the field. You don’t put your hands over your mouth as Jordyn Wieber fails in an event in which she was expected to medal.

I love the Olympics, but I’m not going to shut off my computer for two weeks just so I can actually be surprised by the results every night. And I shouldn’t have to. My family pays $200 a month for cable. I don’t think being able to watch the world’s biggest sporting events live is too much to ask. I understand wanting to save the best events for primetime NBC, but there’s no reason not to show them live on another channel. After all, NBC does have seven other channels showing Olympic coverage.

NBC’s online feed is supposed to serve as that other channel, but it’s been borderline unwatchable. While watching the 4×100 relay on Sunday afternoon, my feed cut out after the first leg and I missed the rest of the race. I would even consider signing up for a pay channel if that’s what it took to get these events live on my TV (although I don’t think I should have to do that either). I just don’t want to have to deal with a choppy online stream.

In this age of instant and constant information, the idea of broadcasting major events on tape delay is completely outdated. Yes, NBC will still get great ratings. They’ll even set records. And they’ll use all that to justify the decision to use tape delay. That doesn’t make a good idea, though. That doesn’t mean we the viewers are happy with it. I already said I’ll be watching. But that’s only because I love the Olympics enough to watch even if I already know the results. And because my chances of watching those events online without interference have been about 50/50 so far.

The Olympics bring out the best in national pride. I feel a surge of patriotism every time an American wins gold. It would be nice if NBC stopped worrying about milking the Olympics for every penny and took a little more interest in helping American viewers enjoy the Games.


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