In case you haven’t heard yet, everyone in America hates NBC.
At least that’s what it seems like according to virtually any social media site or news source writing about the coverage of the London Olympics. But is it all fair? Is some of this gloves-off, NBC-bashing unwarranted or is every sports fan with a Twitter handle obligated to express their opinions of Matt Lauer to the world? The only way to fairly judge this situation is by looking at the problem, understanding how we got here, and accepting that in the end some things just can’t be perfect when you’re playing with billions.
The Olympics began with a stunning ceremony that included everything from Paul McCartney singing to James Bond skydiving into the arena. The only problem was that Americans were forced to wait five-and-a-half hours to see the broadcast. On top of this, NBC decided to also tape delay the sporting events into prime time, forcing viewers to avoid almost any news or social media sources all day in order to not spoil the experience. However, this was the case during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and is only a bigger issue today due to the popularity of Twitter and the sudden obsession with instant news in the palms of our hands.
It’s a tricky situation to say the least, but in the end it’s not NBC’s fault. As much as we need a scapegoat, this is just a product of the get-it-now world we live in. You can’t expect to please everyone. People want to see the London Olympics live, in good quality, easily accessible, without advertisements, and for free. It’s bloody impossible.
However, before a logical defense of NBC is presented, there are a few things that must be said. It is truly unacceptable to have news anchors that have not done their sports or global research, commentating on events of this scale. For instance, Lauer referring to the country of Madagascar as a “location indelibly associated with a couple of recent animated movies,” Bob Costas introducing Australia as a “former penal colony,” and NBC editing a tribute to the victims of the 2005 London bombings out of the opening ceremony so they could show a Ryan Seacrest interview. Tough to decide on which is more offensive.
But now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk business.
The problem began when NBC was awarded the rights to the Olympics for an astonishing $1.3 billion in 2002. NBC then had to turn around and unload that $1.3 billion in advertising costs to mega-corporations like Citibank, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. But these companies weren’t going to pay Super Bowl-type costs to run ads unless they were getting Super Bowl-type ratings. The solution: prime time.
“Throughout the evolution of media, with digital on the rise, advertising is obviously in a period of transition,” according to DGWB Media Director Cathy Sosa. “But through it all, prime time has always been the most consistent means of reaching a large number of people.”
By tape-delaying all events until prime time in each market NBC is going to make almost all of its money back. As it stands, NBC is projected to lose $100 million unless their record-breaking ratings turn in last-minute advertisers. The opening ceremony delivered 40.7 million viewers, which was 17% higher than the Beijing Games and the highest opening ceremony and opening weekend ratings in Olympic history.
NBC also has done a fantastic job of making the Olympics an overall entertainment experience. Its bios and backstories for U.S. athletes are more and more beautifully constructed, welling up the eyes of viewers and capturing the attention of the most unlikely of sports fans.
Don’t forget: As a network focused on entertainment, NBC’s job is not to analyze and investigate, but to provide and entertain the whole family, not just the sports lovers in the house.
So as people go about their day in the Twitterverse, maybe it’s time to take pause before complaining about tape-delayed sporting events. NBC is taking on a huge task, accepting a $100 million loss, and making it so every event can be viewed in HD in your living room. It might be five hours late, but who is really up at 3:30 a.m. to watch fencing?
Think twice before bashing NBC, because when you look at the whole picture, they’re doing pretty well. This is the world we live in; it’s consumed by advertising, controlled by dollars, and created a million experts who all want to take their shot at the peacock.