360USA: NBC the biggest losers at Rio 2016

Steve Brenner 07:30 16/08/2016
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Headline act: Simone Biles.

There are 28 sports being contested at the Olympics. Here in the United States however, an extra discipline is on offer. NBC bashing is an event played by millions. Forget medals – competitors are spurred on by fury and indignation at being deprived live TV moments of sporting history.

The Twitter hashtag #nbcfail keeps everyone fully updated as to how poorly the US host broadcaster performs. Some believe their coverage is the worst of all time.

Ever since NBC first screened the Games in 1988, their approach to broadcasting has left sports fans here muddled and confused. The Olympics isn’t seen as a sporting event but more a TV reality show.

And driven voraciously by sponsors who pay millions for advertising – the incessant commercial breaks are mind-numbing – bosses are under orders to ensure women, as well as men, tune in.

In NBC’s warped thinking, the fairer sex aren’t interested in the pure sporting event. No, they steadfastly, and wrongly, believe the human interest element trumps all. So instead of showing the best action live and providing detailed insight and analysis, it’s delayed until later in the evening, neatly packaged into easily watchable highlights.OLYMPICS TRACKER-01

Interestingly, despite Team USA boasting an all-time record amount of female athletes, only 28 of NBC’s 128-strong commentary team are women. The editing process also seems to erase the presence of anyone who doesn’t have the Stars and Stripes emblazoned on their chests.

Back in the day, there was no Twitter. No 24-hour rolling news cycles. It meant this bewildering approach kind of worked. In 2016, however, it most certainly doesn’t.

Earlier this week, the levels of absurdity hit the roof. The amazing US gymnastics team, led by the sensational Simone Biles, have been long trumpeted by the grinning NBC cheerleaders as the story of these Games.

Yet it wasn’t screened live. Viewers had to wait until 20:00 – a full five hours since Biles was presented with gold – to watch it. And even then, the footage was broken up by constant switches to live swimming.

In NBC’s defence, everything is available online. More than 4,500 hours of live event competition including live streaming coverage of everything is available. The ‘Gold Zone’ option neatly breaks up the screen to include all events where medals are about to be decided.

Still, many sports fans, including those in the older generations, don’t want to sit fiddling with their smartphones or laptops to tune into something the rest of the world is handed on a plate.

Once the technology is perfected, that’s the way viewers of the future will choose their sporting poisons. But for now, simplicity should be key. Turn on, sit back and enjoy.

“The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. More women watch than men; the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey,” said John Miller, NBC Olympics chief marketing officer.

“It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and miniseries wrapped into one.”

The opening ceremony was shambolically presented by cringeworthy morning chat show hosts, hours after everyone else had been enjoying it.

“I have been told by several people in the broadcasting industry they need to attract more women to get their viewer numbers up for their advertisers,” Olympic coach and former NBC analyst Bob Prichard told Sport360. “I was not rehired because they said my analysis was too technical.”

The decision is driven by satisfying sponsorship partners. NBC spent $1.2 billion for coverage rights – 2,500 employees are in Rio.

During the 1992 Olympics, they used so much electricity, they ordered five huge generators because Barcelona couldn’t cope. In London, they had their very own Starbucks built in their compound. The money needs to be taken back somehow. But shredding viewer satisfaction is plain wrong.

“The streaming appeals to fans weaned on the ESPN style of 24-hour news,” added Galen Clavio, an associate professor of sports media at the Indiana University Media School. “The question is, will that be enough?”

No, it won’t.

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