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Overwhelming Outrage About NBC’s Winter Olympics Coverage Should Move IOC To End Exclusive TV Rights Deals

COMMENTARY: The criticism and outrage about NBC’s coverage of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver is both overwhelming and pervasive. The time has come to end exclusive television broadcast rights for a single television network here in the United States.


LOS ANGELES — As the heavy criticism of NBC’s coverage of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia gets louder and more overwhelming, if that’s possible, it is clear that the time has come for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the United States Olympic Committee, assuming they have a say in the matter, to end the exclusive broadcasting deal with NBC for future Olympic Games.

Indeed, the criticism of NBC’s coverage has been vehement and unending since these Games began. But with their piece-meal, tape-delayed coverage of the Games, despite the fact that they are in Vancouver—not only in the same hemisphere as the United States, but also the same continent—NBC has no one to blame but themselves.

It seems rather obvious that, even though they are broadcasting the Games on their affiliates across the country and on USA Network, CNBC and MSNBC, NBC is unwilling to preempt a significant number of their shows during the day on any of their channels so that they could air live coverage.

That decision has left a foul taste in the mouths of many Olympic fans.

“It’s frustrating,” said Erin Norton, 33, of Gilbert, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. “NBC pays a ton of money to have exclusive coverage and it’s on the same continent. The coverage they could have had for these Olympics would have blown all the other channels out of the water. They could show so many events live during the day on CNBC, MSNBC, USA Network and the local NBC station.”

“Yet they show things tape-delayed and if they show three hours during the day on NBC, then it’s a good day,” added Norton. “Instead, we’re still subjected to all their normal crap.”

“I know they still want to keep their soap operas and other crap on television, but I’d prefer to see more stuff live on NBC so it’s more widely available to the masses,” said Bruce Fung, 45, of Long Beach, California.

Years ago, when ABC was broadcasting the Olympics, one could watch wall-to-wall, day-and-night, live coverage, which is what many are calling on NBC to provide.

“Show the events live during the day,” Norton said. “They could still show the repeats at night like they are now for the people who work. I can understand showing figure skating over hockey, but show the full hockey game on a sister network.”

“I was home today and they showed the Olympics from 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM on [her local NBC station],” Norton lamented. “2:00 – 4:00? Are you [expletive deleted] kidding me? Is ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ really more important? I find that beyond ridiculous.”

The acute lack of live coverage is just the tip of the iceberg.

“I hate the coverage, all of it,” said Beth Boase, 41, of Lake Oswego, Oregon. “It’s too frenetic, jumping from event to event with way too many ‘human’ stories between the stories, talking to the ‘experts’ and the insane amount of advertising.”

Norton also complained about the over-emphasis on the human interest stories about the athletes.

“I like getting to know the behind the scenes stories about the athletes, but some of them are repeated so many times they become annoying,” she said. “I got so sick of hearing about [USA snowboarder] Lindsay Jacobellis screwing up in Torino and then she places fifth in Vancouver.”

“The time they spent repeating that story was time they could have used to broadcast other events.”

After all that, it is rather apparent that NBC’s coverage cannot get much worse. Just don’t try telling that to hockey fans, who are in agony. Even though hockey broadcasts are live, fans are suffering because of other events preempting the start hockey of broadcasts, commercials running during important live action and the difficulty in actually finding what channel a game is being broadcast on.

“I think the hockey coverage has been a joke, and the lack of clarity about how to find the games on the NBC web site, as well as the explanations, or lack thereof, from broadcast talent have been disappointing,” said James Kyriaco, Jr., 34, of Santa Barbara, California.

“They have listed the wrong start times for events, then fail to tell you to switch networks in a timely fashion, then you switch and the wrong sport is on,” Kyriaco added.

Not every hockey fan is up in arms about NBC’s coverage.

“I think they’ve done a good job making all games available on the various NBC affiliated channels,” said Fung. “Since I have USA Network, MSNBC, and CNBC, it works for me.”

“I’m glad that they are showing all the games and not just the ones involving the men’s and women’s teams for USA and Canada,” added Fung.

Nevertheless, Fung’s view is clearly a minority one, and that is putting it mildly.

“I think this mish-mash of MSNBC/CNBC/USA Network is just abysmal,” said Patty Jasper of Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, which is located between the cities of Raleigh and Durham. “On top of this, we have had two incidents where curling has gone into overtime or has run long and we miss parts of the [hockey] games. The hockey tournament is littered with National Hockey League talent, and I’m interested. [On Tuesday night], we missed part of Canada’s first game because the women went long on curling. Fast forward to tonight, the men do the exact same thing.”

“[Hockey play-by-play announcer Mike] Emrick instructed the audience on MSNBC to go to CNBC to watch the rest of tonight’s game and, uh-oh, [they are broadcasting] curling! You flip back to MSNBC and they are knee-deep with Keith Olbermann’s show.”

Indeed, whether it is having the start of a game being preempted by other coverage, commercials being aired during game action (how many important plays will be missed this time around?) or just not being able to find a game on the channel it is supposed to be on, NBC’s coverage of hockey during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games is, in a word, horrid.

“NBC blathers on about having ‘the Networks of NBC’ so why didn’t they put the Sweden/Germany game on USA Network? They were showing Law & Order re-runs,” Jasper lamented. “Of course, the Canada game, so highly anticipated, there was no heads-up that they were showing it on MSNBC because of the curling, not even a scroller. That’s pitiful.”

What it comes right down to is that, despite being a broadcast partner of the NHL, NBC appears to care very little about hockey, and their disdain for it, based on traditionally low ratings, is plainly evident in their coverage during the Games.

“[NBC] really [doesn’t] have a caring interest in covering hockey,” Jasper claims. “It’s pretty obvious. All these [other] sports are well and good, but I’d think they’d have a better plan on how to handle [other events that run long] or delays. But seriously, trying to bounce [around] the dial to figure out what the hell is going on does a disservice to people who do care.”

“I’d hate to see what happens if the USA gets into medal contention. There might be an ice skating or ice dancing emergency and they get cut off.”

To be sure, hockey fans are probably suffering the most from NBC’s coverage. But that is merely a symptom of larger issues with their coverage.

“[The biggest problem is] the tape delay for the West Coast,” Boase lamented. “Fine, show things in the evening for those who work. But we all make it home in time to watch Monday Night Football, the World Series, NCAA games. It makes no sense that I just had to watch half-pipe qualifying when the finals are happening.”

“This is so sad to me,” Boase added. “One of my favorite memories of growing up was watching the Olympics as a family at night or on the weekend. My eight-year-old can’t stay up until 11:00 PM or later to see events, much less those who work. And explain why on the weekend it can’t be shown during the day like other sports?”

Veteran Southern California sportswriter David Lassen, who has covered several Olympic Games, also panned NBC’s coverage.

“The perfunctory coverage of the men’s downhill was a joke for one of the premiere events of the Games,” said Lassen. “The way they stretch events out over the entire telecast to build drama makes it seem more like reality TV than a sporting event, and when they heavily edit an event, they more or less tip off the results, simply by who they choose to show. If you don’t see someone, they didn’t do well. If you see someone who’s not well known, it means there’s an upset in the making, or a disaster of some kind.”

And if you search the World Wide Web, the blogosphere, Twitter or Facebook, good luck finding praise, compliments or kudos of any kind for NBC and their coverage of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. Indeed, this isn’t even the proverbial needle-in-the-haystack scenario—you’ll be looking for something much smaller than a needle.

One comment on Facebook by Jonathan Moncrief, who covers the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings for examiner.com, seemed to best sum up the overwhelming outcry regarding NBC’s coverage.

“You guys are handling hockey and [the] West Coast [tape-] delay so badly, it leads me to believe that you guys would [expletive] up a bake sale.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Indeed, with coverage so absolutely horrendous, it is time for the IOC to end the exclusive broadcasts rights awarded to a single US television network. If the IOC chose to divvy up the broadcast rights and spread the Olympic sports among all the networks involved, perhaps we would then get the live, quality coverage of a lot more of the different sports that we all deserve.

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29 Responses to Overwhelming Outrage About NBC’s Winter Olympics Coverage Should Move IOC To End Exclusive TV Rights Deals

  1. Bob Bobson says:

    The worst part about the tape delay is it ignores the fact that most all news sites have results splashed across their home page (including msnbc). It defeats the purpose of all their so-called drama. I understand they want to save coverage for prime time but it really reduces the enjoyment when you already know what will happen. Bunch o’ bull !

  2. Bruce Cameron says:

    “The thrill of Victory and the agony of Defeat”.
    Where’s Jim McKay when we need him?
    (I know, RIP my friend)

  3. Jud Spencer says:

    My two favorite sports of the olympics are Hockey and Curling. From my perspecive as a fan, I picked the right two sports. All of the games/matches are available live on NBCOlympics.com (commercial-free), and most are live on USA/CNBC/MSNBC (with ill-timed commercials). If I was a fan of any of the sports that NBC chooses to air on their main station I would not be so lucky, they just aren’t available until the edited version is shown on their nightly show. The mens downhill had ouright abysmal coverage.

    NBC paid a lot to have the right to decide what I can and can’t watch so I have to respect their choices. I do think it’s rather pathetic that we have to watch all events tape-delayed on the west coast. Their setup has taken a lot of the drama out of watching the rest of the sports though. It’s almost impossible to avoid seeing the results in advance. I find myself not watching the nightly show as a result.

  4. Stephan says:

    it was ridiculous…i was looking for the women’s downhill live….with vonn winning and couldn’t find!! maybe it was on somewhere, buti am a very able tv fanatic and couldnt find! it! nbc has done a terrible job so far imho!

  5. lowdrive says:

    I can understand that NBC wants to maximize its ratings. I am sure that a re-run of law and order would pull more viewers than Slovenia v. Czech. But, when you accept the obligation of being the exclusive broadcaster, you’ve got to broadcast everything, given that there are no other options to see things. So, like you concluded Gann, either they have to start showing everything, not in a processed reality-show ‘stay tuned to find out who won!’ package, or open it up to stations who will.

  6. lowdrive says:

    At minimum, they should offer PPV of the things they don’t want to put on live. Let people have the option of seeing what they want to see.

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  9. Bob Boogie says:

    “At minimum, they should offer PPV of the things they don’t want to put on live. Let people have the option of seeing what they want to see.”

    Forget it, they tried this in the states on NBC years ago, I believed it was called the “Triple Cast” it was an outright failure!

    As a Hockey fan, I am outraged at these peliminary rounds being cut off in the 1st periods by the darn Curling Overruns!!
    Believe me if you cut off the curling in the middle of their overtimes and go into the Hockey games when they start on time, im sure you wouldnt get any complaints in this country! Most Americans still find it a joke that curling is considered a sport!

  10. DougS says:

    I think Bob Bobson and Jud Spencer put their fingers on it. The fact that we can get so much news in real-time now, thanks to the Internet and mobile devices, makes tape delay of any major sporting problematic now. What NBC is doing is no different from how the Olympics were broadcast 30-40 years ago, when I was a kid. But times have changed and NBC, as a relic of an older media environment, did not figure out how to keep up with them.

    I fully agree with Gann that a good place to start would be to break up the TV rights for the games. I wouldn’t be surprised if this brought in more TV revenue, as it could generate interest in niche sports that previously got little exposure because the broadcaster with the exclusive concession didn’t consider them popular enough to deal with. Think of it: A new burst of interest in biathalon!

  11. DougS says:

    @lowdrive: I find it interesting that you describe the Olympics coverage as “processed reality show,” because the reality show is a fairly new concept, but as far as I can tell, NBC is doing a mostly traditional job of covering the Games. The format that you note is pretty much how the Olympics have been done as long as I can remember. But I agree with you that it just isn’t acceptable anymore. In an age when most of us take it for granted that our cable/satellite provider will offer us hundreds of channels to choose from, I’d like my Olympics served up ala carte and unprocessed — a lot of sports and nothing but the sports.

    Before the men’s hockey started, I tuned in to some of the coverage, but didn’t hang around for long because I always seemed to land in the middle of one of three things, none of which I found appealing:

    1) Commercials.

    2) A lengthy report on that unfortunate Georgian luger.

    3) Human interest segments. The old ABC “Up Close and Personal” stuff doesn’t really do anything for me anymore. I want to watch sports. The background material, if I’m interested I’ll poke around on the Internet for it. Again: Times have changed, but it seems like the packaging of information hasn’t kept up in this case.

  12. ian22 says:

    I read a few days ago (Olympic Tape Delays Roil Fans, But It’s Good for NBC’s Business) that NBC has been tape-delaying events into prime time when they can charge more for advertising.

    Also, I believe NBC-Universal is trying to get DirecTV subscribers to revolt by putting one of the marquee events (the Canada vs. USA Men’s Hockey game) on msnbc. DirecTV is the last major holdout in not buying msnbc-HD. DirecTV probably figures its subscribers don’t want to pay extra to watch Chris Matthews and other political news in HD. While I, as a DirecTV subscriber, was watching Canada vs. USA hockey in SD they were playing far less interesting crap on CNBC, USA, and NBC (all of which I get in HD). A marquee game like this should have been televised on NETWORK television (where almost everyone capable of getting NBC in HD does). The next important game to be foisted onto msnbc: the Women’s Hockey gold medal game.

    NBC’s ploy backfired with me. I’m irritated with NBC, not DirecTV and stand by DirecTV not buying msnbc-HD as its regular non-Olympic programming doesn’t justify HD broadcast.

    See this article: U.S. Men’s Hockey Victory Only a Bit Player on NBC.

    This is reminiscent of how Comcast was demanding a ridiculously high subscription fee for their channel Versus to competitor DirecTV so as a DirecTV subscriber I don’t have access to Versus and their NHL coverage. Wait a minute, who is buying NBC? Oh yeah, Comcast. Nice people you’re in bed with, Mr. Bettman (Versus on DIRECTV).

  13. ian22 says:

    Sorry, missing the point of your article in my rant, I should note that the Olympics is a big-money for-profit endeavor. By selling exclusive television rights the IOC reaps BILLIONS.

    Read that link that I posted to the Wired News article. NBC will lose TONS of money on these Olympics.

    I don’t see the IOC ever giving up the profits reaped by television rights deals to allow open coverage.

  14. Bob Bobson says:

    Well I guess we can complain all we want but in NBC’s eyes, their actions are justified b/c of high ratings (on par with American Idol I think). However, this whole tape delay issue would be a major deal-breaker for me. It is ridiculous that the East Coast gets live coverage while the West Coast, where the Olympics is actually occurring, has to get tape delays ?

  15. Bob Bobson says:

    One more thing, I hear a lot of news outlets get grief for splashing results before the West coast can see them. Instead of complaining to news sites, people should direct their angst at NBC for their dinosaur model of Olympic broadcasting.

  16. DougS says:

    @ian22: While selling exclusive TV rights may be good for the IOC, it seems to be less good for whomever buys the rights. It seems that NBC expects to lose $250 mil: NBC Wipes Out on Its Olympics Strategy.

    At this point, the idea of selling exclusive rights to one broadcaster may be yet another old business model that is rapidly becoming irrelevant. I doubt that the IOC will get $800+ mil for the next Winter Games.

  17. ErikC says:

    At least they are ‘covering’ the Olympics. They’ve refused to give more than a 2 hour wrap-up of the Paralympics, even though they have the exclusive broadcast rights to the 2nd largest sporting event in the world starting in 2 weeks. The lack of coverage has left American athletes and teams at a disadvantage because many top athletes cannot afford to compete at an international level without having any exposure to sell to sponsors. USA! USA!

  18. Deb says:

    Because I live in NW Ohio, in the past couple of decades I have been lucky enough to be able to watch the games on CBC (Canada), which devotes almost their entire daytime and/or nighttime hours to live coverage. That is until this olympics, when they were outbid by CTV which we cannot pick up here. The coverage in the US has always sucked and we always complain and it is always the same the next time around. Nothing is going to change this time either. I hate to say it but the IOC will not end exclusive broadcasting rights for the olympics in the US…not ever! Not with all of the money involved. So, I’ll just pray that CBC gets the summer games in London in 2012.

  19. chuck simmons says:

    Obviously some if not all Olympic events could/should be shown live—why not during the day with a re-cap at night.
    But the idiocy and insensitivity of shoving Figure Skating toward midnight—one of the most popular events in winter Olympic history—is beyond belief. On a school night—the audience composed of families with children and adolescents—less popular events hardly of interest to families could so (expletive deleted) easily be shown after skating. Secondly, figure skating—especially the women’s—has grown even more popular to a cross section of our population—not to mention in Asia. Southern California is not only the new national but international center of figure skating—looking at the coaches and skaters who live here and come here to train. The only two female U.S. skaters in the U.S. are from here. And half of the 20 skaters in the Nationals were from here—5 of the 20 from the All Year Figure Skating Club that calls an old shabby skating rink in Culver City (with 4 ex-Olmpian coaches on its staff) its home.

  20. Holly says:

    ANd they say the Olympics are over today??? Ummm NO THEY’RE NOT!! The paralympics start March 12th…where’s that broadcast?? They not important enough??? You’ve got a lot of angry people out here that this is not being covered…including my 12 year old son who is a bilateral above the knee amputee and has been looking forward to watching this on TV!

  21. Gann Matsuda says:

    I understand what you’re saying and agree that there should be some kind of coverage of the Paralympic Games. But, to be fair, that’s a separate issue from what we’re discussing here.

  22. Brian says:

    What NBC did was absolutely reprehensible.
    My guess is that they probably figured that millions of people across the nation were currently tuned in watching the Olympics, so they took advantage of that fact to switch programs before anyone had a chance to know what was going on to premeire Seinfeld’s new show.
    They caught everyone off guard, which was very sneaky and dishonest.
    How low can you go NBC?

  23. Brian M says:

    I live in Toronto, so I was able to watch the Canadian and USA (NBC) versions of the Games. I saw almost no live events on NBC, and almost everything I watched on CTV was live. I can’t see the point of watching a sports event after the fact, and why Americans have tolerated this approach for many years (not just 2010) is beyond me. If CTV had copied the NBC method, I wouldn’t have bothered watching any of it.

  24. Eric H says:

    Is it any wonder look at how NBC messed up the Conan Leno thing, seems it won’t be getting better in the near future. Quick fix boycott all NBC shows and the companies that advertise their products on NBC. That would get their attention faster than a rabbit at a greyhound track ….. ratings go down and the advertisers will leave in droves …. the viewers have the power we need to unite and send a very powerful message to NBC executives … we have a voice and we will watch other networks its as easy as ABC.

  25. Glenn says:

    Being a resident of Canada (and visiting the US at the start of the games) I can’t believe how horrible the coverage was on NBC. Two rival Canadian networks got together to show pretty much every olympic sport live and it was amazing.

    I knew right from the start that NBC was showing the US athletes, the Canadians (surprisingly) and whomever won. That’s it.

    Unfortunately for those living in the US, it was nice to see Canadian television completely outperform the US coverage (doesn’t happen very often)!!!

  26. Fred says:

    I’m a Canadian and I feel sorry for the Americans who’s only source of viewing the Olympics was NBC. They started late in the day so they could run their daytime programming like soaps, their evening coverage didn’t start till 8:00PM. Saturdays they had to run cartoons before coverage and in the evening they ran an infomercial from 7 to 7:30PM. Their coverage sucked as everyone has commented. Too bad ABC Sports is dead. They were the only ones who did it right. I can only hope the northern border state were able to get Canadian cable channels or over-the-air broadcasts because getting the news two hours after the fact just wouldn’t cut it with me.

  27. Maureen says:

    NBC’s coverage of the 2010 Olympics was a complete joke. The network should be embarrassed at the biased comments that were made by so-called professional broadcasters. They (NBC) sounded so completely amateur I wanted to turn the television OFF! I was so relieved to get back to Canada to hear professional, unbiased and complete coverage from the Canadian networks.

  28. NBC SUCKS says:

    NBC, which I watch on HD was OK at the begining of the Olympics, but with the delays and biased reporting, mostly focusing on US athletes, and embarassing performances by NBC comentators on the side lines, as case in point, the speed Sven Kramer whom the NBC sideline interview asked who he was after winning a metal race which the NBC commentator was present. They know how to treat the Olympics like the treat their late nite line up. Now I can boycott Jay Leno and wait for Conan to surface on another network.

  29. Used to be an NBC viewer says:

    NBC cutting short the Olympics is right alongside the US radio station not playing Canadian music all day Monday. Pathetic!

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