It’s Show Time as NBC Goes Back to the Future

7 Feb

The Economist 2/1/14

The Economist 2/1/14

Grab the popcorn and ice down the beer—it’s game time from Vlad’s World of Happiness.

Like a general looking at the big map on the wall, NBC has a plan to win the hearts and minds of viewers (and advertisers) hungry for the Olympics. And like many generals, they’re prepared to win the last battle, not the next one.

Also in this post:
The view from inside Sochi

Join the fun

Looking over the NBC Olympics site it would appear that it’s the 2012 games they broadcasting. Sadly, they just can’t get their head around the concept of a two-screen experience.

BugOnce again NBC and four of its cable networks will blow out their coverage of the games, with more than 500 hours of  broadcast. But the big win for us this time is NBC’s commitment to stream more than 1,500 hours of live coverage of every event.

Yep, NBC is finally getting out its own way and letting viewers decide for themselves if they want to watch events live, or pre-packaged and shown up to 11 hours after the fact on NBC prime time. They’re even putting some production value into the live streams this year, with real announcers and color commentators, not just the pool video feed they used in 2012.

All of which means NBC has caught up with what networks in other countries did for the London 2012 games. Unfortunately, for fans of the prime-time coverage, the big brass think you’re best served with tightly scripted moments of competition and uncertainty.

“The coverage in primetime is a movie they put on every night,” Rick Cordella, senior VP and general manager, digital media, NBC Sports Group told Variety. “It’s carefully choreographed, with great profiles, and Bob Costas hosting. It’s an event you want to see at that moment. Whereas what I think we’re offering (on streaming) is a supplement for that.”

So brace yourself to be spoon-fed feel-good moments and heart-wrenching athlete profiles that break up the actual competition. And if it’s a big moment, expect it come towards the end of the broadcast, because that’s what you do in movies. It’s also what you do when you’re looking at the last games for guidance rather than taking time to understand what viewers these days really want.

Come on, NBC! Most people are sitting in front of the TV with a tablet or laptop. Would it take such a leap of logic for you to let people sync up their devices? Maybe let us use our tablets and smartphones to pull up those profiles while the competition is playing, or access in-depth information about the event, venue, and stats.

*Sigh* Maybe in 2016.

A Slope-Side View

Erich SochiSo how different is our screen-side experience from those who are charged with bringing us the experience? A former colleague, Erich Schlegel, is a photographer covering his 500th Olympics. (Okay, it’s really more like 12th, but how many have you covered?)

Here’s his itinerary for shooting a skiing event the other day:

  • 4:30am wake up
  • 6am bus ride up the mountain.
  • Go through two security checks. Two ski lift rides up the mountain.
  • Ski down w/30-lb backpack w/all your photo gear on men’s downhill course, very steep and icy, to check photo positions.
  • Two more ski lifts back to the top.
  • Ski down to photo position. Stand there in the cold for two or three hours in your ski boots and crampons for an 11am start.
  • Hour or so of shooting all racers. Ski down to the press center again w/all your shit and send pics.
  • Done mid-afternoon.

“This is my 12th Olympic Games. I never know what folks are seeing back home on TV. OK, so many hotels aren’t finished. Lots still under construction. None of that really is evident at the venues,” he wrote. “Always great to be far away from home to cover the Olympics. Even if the place is kinda weird, like here for instance.”

1888629_10152247889141617_1861534046_n“Security is always the same, no matter what Olympics you have attended lately. Always heavy security. This one is no different and I didn’t expect it to be any different from my point of view… I’m tired of this fear thing we get on TV—and the US public eats it up! Hate that so much!”

“I’m here to shoot whoever comes down the mountain and don’t care who pulls out or why or what they have to say. It’s such hard work just getting to your photo position on the mountain and getting the shots, then coming back down and editing and transmitting, all by yourself, then going off to the next event. The folks that follow biathlon are probably more passionate than any snowboard fan! To me, that is one of the cool things about the Olympics. The passion other countries and cultures have for certain sports that totally comes out in the Games!”

So Now What?

Now we settle in for a couple of weeks of sport and spectacle. There will be pretty commonplace stories, laughable failures (especially among brands trying to cash in on the games), and that palatable tension of waiting to see if this is the day it all goes wrong.

Rather than just yelling at the TV or satisfying your curiosity with another Google search, why not join the fun right here? If you see something that drives you nuts, let us know and we’ll share your frustration. Or if you have a thought you’re wanting to share, send a few paragraphs we can drop in here. We give full credit and links. Just shoot it over in an email ( or via DM on Twitter (@toddcop).

We asked some friends how they would improve the Olympics broadcast. Here are their insights:

“NBC should bring back Ann Curry and stop kissing Matt Lauer’s hind parts,” said @rachel_walters . “I don’t want the crew from last year doing the opening ceremonies with Captain Obvious at the helm.”

“I dislike that I am sold every event with a little :90 human-interest story every 20 minutes that’s really nothing but a programming ad,” said Matt Bull over at The Department of Persuasion.  Stand by for more of the same, Matt.

And one friend suggested NBC invest the resources to resurrect ABC legend Jim McKay. Hmm, maybe CGI Jim?

About Project TILWO — I watch Sochi 2014 Olympic coverage on TV and online then share the lessons I learn, with occasional help from my friends. Edited by Lynn Hess @ Premier Proofing.