Day 15 — NBC Fails The Gold Medal Test

10 Aug

Shame on you NBC. Shame on you for putting self-promotion ahead of the viewing public.

Also in this post:
Mascots – ultimate focus group failure

Shame on you for leaving millions of Americans, and more disturbingly the nation’s youth, out of luck when the USA women’s soccer team played for gold.

Thursday, tens of millions of viewers around the world watched the culmination of the arguably greatest women’s soccer tournament to date. But if you don’t have cable you were out of luck.

NBC didn’t broadcast the game on its main network. Instead they relegated it to NBC Sports, formerly Versus network, that’s only available on cable networks.

If you don’t have cable then you didn’t see this.
via Reuters

So while the rest of the world was enjoying US vs. Japan in 120 minutes of intense action, NBC broadcast viewers were watching a bronze medal match in women’s water polo. Why would NBC put a gold medal event, one of enough importance that it led the national news later that night, on a secondary network?

There are a couple of theories, but both come down to money.

Theory 1 – Soccer is not commercial-friendly, and air time on the main NBC network is very valuable. Either they worried not enough people would watch to justify the ad spend, or that there weren’t enough commercial slots.

The problem with this theory is that the audience was huge. At Wembley Stadium 80,000 people filled the stands, more than any other game to date and equal to the number of people at Olympic Stadium watching Usain Bolt go for his second gold medal.

And NBC aired the US vs. Canada women’s game on the main network on Monday, so I doubt that’s it. And if commercials were really a concern, Fox Sports has demonstrated with its NASCAR coverage that split-screen works just fine for ringing the register while not cutting away from the action.

Theory 2 – NBC wanted to build awareness of its new NBC Sports network and there’s no better way than a showcase event. This is the theory shared by my former colleague and veteran TV critic Ed Bark.

“They’re trying to put NBC Sports Net on the map after taking over Versus. But still would have put this one on main NBC,” Ed said in a message. (Here’s Ed’s take from CNN on NBC’s efforts from earlier in the Olympics.)

I think he’s right, which is why I am so angry with NBC.

NBC certainly wasn’t saving the event for the prime time show; indeed it got only a summary review. And they were promoting it heavily all morning on the broadcast network.

But only 43% of US homes have cable, according to industry reports. So the majority of US homes couldn’t watch the event. Nor could they watch it on NBC’s much hyped NBCOlympics.com. That’s because to see the video you have to enter your cable or satellite log in. No cable, no video.

And without access to the broadcast, American youth suffered. That’s not just hyperbole.

Girls’ and women’s soccer in this country has grown by leaps and bounds since the game first entered the Olympics in 1996. Today there are seven million girls under the age of 18 playing soccer, a figure that’s grown 200 percent since the Atlanta Olympics.

It was in that inaugural tournament that the US won its first gold medal. And yes, NBC broadcast the entire event, live.

Mascots – Ultimate Focus Group Failure

Have you seen these guys? If you’re lucky, the answer is no. Meet Wenlock and Mandeville, the official mascots of the London 2012 games. Um, what the hell are they? you might reasonably ask.

Well there are lots of theories. Some have suggested bottle openers. The more cynical have pointed out their similarities to the security cameras that ring London. And one Canadian newspaper suggested they were the result of, “a drunken one-night stand between a Teletubby and a Dalek.” (For reference, Daleks are a laughable alien threat from the BBC’s Doctor Who.)

In truth, the things are allegedly droplets of steel, left over from construction of the Olympic Stadium, according to their creation story shared on YouTube. They were designed by Iris Worldwide and reportedly vetted in more than 40 focus groups, which should really tell you everything you need to know. But their creator offered a spirited defense of the blobs on Slate.

But before you lay into the agency, or organizers, ask yourself, can you recall the mascots from any of the Olympics? For that matter, can anyone explain why the Olympics need a mascot at all?

About Project TILWO I watch London 2012 Olympic coverage on TV and online then share the lessons I learned, with occasional help from my friends. Edited by Lynn Hess @ Premier Proofing.