Thursday, July 17, 2008

Get ready for the "Fall-Asleep-On-The-Couch Olympics"

Every year that the Olympics come around, complaints about the TV coverage seem to be almost as common as discussion about who will end up on a Wheaties box. Some complaints are valid, such as the excessive jingoism in the coverage of the Atlanta Olympics, reaching its nadir when John Tesh sounded like he was openly rooting for Russian gymnasts to fall, and the excessive amount of profile pieces NBC ran during the 2000 Sydney Games. Some are less so, like the complaint that NBC waits until primetime to show all the good events, and thus they're on tape delay and not live. Yes, it's annoying, but from a business perspective it's the only thing NBC can do--they pay hundreds of millions of dollars for the rights to television the Games, and they need to sell ads to recoup that money at high rates. They're not going to broadcast the women's gymnastics final at 11 in the morning on a Wednesday, when the vast majority of people are at work and not watching TV. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, this wasn't that big a deal--if you wanted to, it wasn't that tough to avoid hearing the Olympic results on the radio or TV for a few hours before the primetime coverage began.

But with the Internet, it's virtually impossible to not run across the results for that women's gymnastics final if it's over at noon on Wednesday afternoon., and thus it's a lot less exciting to watch. So NBC took steps to combat that problem in Beijing, by getting all the swmming finals, and the team and all-around gymnastics finals, scheduled in the morning in China--which means with the 12-hour time difference, they'll be in the evening here, live in prime time.

As a longtime Olympic viewing fan, I was very excited about that--but when I checked the actual Beijing schedule of events (which is strangely not available on the NBC Olympics Website), I could already anticipate the complaints about this year's broadcasts. Most viewers on the East Coast are going to have to take a nap when they get home from work, or at least load up on caffeine at dinner, if they want to be awake to see those gymnastics finals--and to a lesser extent, whether Michael Phelps can get those eight gold medals--because they aren't actually going to be in the 8-11 p.m. block known as primetime. First of all, the swimming finals are scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Beijing time--which means 10 p.m. East Coast time. So on some nights--for instance, the night of the 400 meter freestyle relay--Phelps won't be swimming until about 11:30 p.m. OK , that's not that bad, but still kind of late for a lot of people.

But check out the gymnastics finals. The women's all-around gymnastics finals, one of the feature events of the games, won't even start on Thursday night until 11:15 p.m., and won't wrap up until about 1 a.m., according to the schedule. The men's all-around the previous night ends after 1:30 a.m.! Even the women's team competition won't finish until about midnight, after starting after 10 p.m.

At least there will be plenty of time to get a nap--since NBC's coverage from 8-10 p.m. appears to be a snoozefest on those evenings. They promise live beach volleyball (I'm already yawning--other than the fact that the women are in bikinis, why is this sport so heavily featured by NBC?) and stuff like taped synchronized diving (double the diving fun!). Even stranger is that after those events the first week, virtually nothing will be live the second week of the games--no track and field except the marathons and live diving semifinals but not finals. OK, the new BMX event will be live, and having caught a glimpse of the trials, it looks kind of cool. But that's about it for primetime after swimming ends. So the live stuff is going to be on really late in primetime the first week, and most of the stuff we see in primetime the second week will have been over for 12 hours once we see it. Sure, the China element will add some interest, but I wonder if NBC is nervous about the ratings for these Olympics. Because with that kind of schedule, I would.

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Anonymous Mark said...

Good post. I thought the swimming would be on at like 8, not 10 or later so that's disapointing. Plus, I know from experience most of the swimmers would probably prefer to go at night anyways since you've had the day to loosen up. I can't imagine they're too thrilled with having to perform so early just so NBC can try to recoup some moolah. But aren't you the one who'll stay up all night watching your tapes of AI so you can post your blog? I can't imagine this schedule will impact you at all.

7/18/08, 2:48 PM  
Anonymous Tama said...

People should read this.

11/10/08, 4:06 PM  

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