In London and around the rest of the world, audiences capped off a raucous event with a spectacular live performance by The Who. Here in America, we watched the pilot episode of a doomed comedy about an animal hospital.
All day, NBC touted the lineup of bands for the closing ceremonies. They told people to look for the Spice Girls, George Michael, and Queen. Throughout the heavily edited ceremonies, they kept rolling promotion on who was coming up. But when it came time for the grand finale, NBC opted to pull a fast one on viewers.
With no warning, viewers were instructed to wait an hour (until midnight in some time zones) because first the network was going to air an episode of Animal Practice. After repeatedly poking viewers in the eye throughout the games, NBC marketing executives decided we needed one last slap to the head before they packed for home.
The Online Alternatives
London may have found a great way to balance commercial interests with great showmanship, but NBC would have none of it. Whether it was ads injected in video streams at inopportune moments, dubious decisions on which sports to air on which network, or the relentless manipulation of the prime-time broadcast, NBC put little value on the wants of its audience.
The network will point to record ratings as proof of its success. People will vote with their remotes, we’ve been told. But how do you vote in a one-candidate race?
True, NBC did offer every event online live, an announcement that, at the time, seemed like a quantum leap forward in the network’s embrace of the digital age. Only it really wasn’t NBC’s magnanimous gesture so much as it was the network’s acceptance that the videos were going to be offered by all the other countries, so it had no choice.
For those who ventured online, NBC offered a video service plagued with glitches and relatively few controls. If you missed something live and wanted to get it online you got a commentary-free feed (consider that good or bad). But there was no way to skip to a highlight or navigate to key moments.
I often opted for the BBC’s online service because it demonstrated an understanding of what makes online viewing enjoyable—options and controls. The feeds were rich and in high-resolution, even when maximized to full-screen.
NBC partnered with YouTube for the feeds, yet it seemed to ignore all the innovation YouTube has brought to online video. Seriously, we live in the country that has revolutionized the Internet for two decades, and we can’t offer something more impressive for the world’s biggest event?
Losing The Big Moments
And yet for many the Olympics are not an online viewing event. As a friend of mine explained, she grew up sharing the Olympics with her family gathered on the couch. “I’m not going to get that big moment on a computer screen.”
Which brings me back to prime time. I will gladly set aside the manipulation of prepackaged athlete stories that must air right before the big moment. I’ll even accede to, albeit grudgingly, the blatant bias for stories of Americans even when there were epic tales from all corners of the world.
What I can’t excuse is NBC’s heavy hammer of self-promotion at the cost of viewers’ time. Maybe viewers should just expect that the big event of the day will air just before the late news. But that’s not how NBC promotes it. Instead they break it up into little bites, peppered throughout the broadcast.
This year we learned that live streams and social media will not dilute the prime-time audience. Indeed, the buzz often helped build it. But as more and more people learn to use the digital space—and as they discover how to stream video, even feeds from other countries, to their televisions—the pressure will build for NBC to change its ways.
Sadly, I firmly believe NBC will fight innovation tooth and nail, opting instead to force feed us Animal Practice or some other pabulum. The athletes of the London 2012 Olympics may have reached for greatness. NBC apparently had no such aspirations.
About Project TILWO — I watched London 2012 Olympic coverage on TV and online then shared the lessons I learned, with occasional help from my friends. Edited by Lynn Hess @ Premier Proofing.