There’s no mistaking the British view of the Olympics: It’s a brutal competition and few will survive unscathed. Lest you have any doubt, consider the voice over on the BBC in its Lord-of-the-Ringesque opening montage, which ends with the tag, “Nature. Who will conquer it?”
“I am the dreadful menace. The one whose will is done. The haunting chill upon your neck. I am the conundrum. I will summon armies. Of wind and rain and snow. I made the black cloud overhead. The ice, like glass below. Not you, nor any other. Can fathom what is nigh. I will tell you when to jump. And I’ll dictate how high. The ones that came before you. Stood strong and tall and brave. But I stole their dreams away. Those dreams could not be saved. But now you stand before me. Devoid of all dismay. Could it be? Just maybe. I’ll let you have your day.”
You won’t hear Bob Costas spouting lines like that any time soon. But the BBC approach is much more than just Tolkienesque narrative. Day in and day out the coverage offers a sharp counterpoint to NBC’s approach, with great content online and a more world view of the events.
It started with the opening ceremonies. Just moments into the broadcast, one of their announcers plowed head-first into the controversies of gay rights, exterminating stray dogs, and corruption. “Russia still has massive strides to make,” Clare Balding said. And while NBC’s Mary Carillo was taking a sappy tour of Sochi with Maria Sharapova, BBC’s Jason Mohammed was visiting Joseph Stalin’s cabin in the Caucus Mountains.
“In this very room, there’s a very good chance that Stalin made decisions about life and death during the Great Purge,” he said. Feeling the British warmth of that Olympic glow?
Perhaps the most refreshing difference is in the approach of the “expert” color commentators. Whereas on NBC they seem convinced silence is an abomination to be avoided at all costs, the BBC commentators often are content to let viewers take in the performances with minimal play-by-play. And when they do go long, it is often with some insightful and unique commentary.
Take, for example, ski commentator Graham Bell. When Bode Miller said the Rosa Khutor course “could kill you,” Bell decided to check it out. Skiing with two cameras rather than ski poles, the former Olympian gave viewers a first-hand view of the slopes. The verdict? Tough as hell, but not lethal.
That’s not to say the BBC crews always keep things in perspective—like when Jenny Jones won a bronze in Women’s Slopestyle. The whoops of joy added little to the coverage, and the camera inside the booth certainly wasn’t their friend.
The difference extends online. While the NBC Olympics site often feels like a glorified TV Guide, the BBC site is a destination. For example, every day it offers a 45-minute summary of the day’s activities, a nice touch for those who don’t want to hunt through all the highlight clips.
Admittedly, it isn’t easy to access the BBC coverage from the United States. For those who want to find out more for themselves, I suggest you check out one of the many DNS masking services. It’s a perfectly legal way to hide what country you’re from when getting online in order to access video feeds with a geographic fence. I use Overplay.net’s SmartDNS, which cost $4.95. The seup takes less than five minutes.
Give yourself some options. It really makes a difference.
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.