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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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Reason No. 858,423 to not like Daniel Snyder

You'd think that a sports radio station in Washington, D.C. would want the pre-eminent expert on baseball in Washington, D.C. to host a show on its airwaves. You'd think the station would consider it a selling point, a coup. But you'd be wrong.

Phil Wood's two-hour Saturday morning baseball show on WTEM Sportstalk 980 disappeared this week. He was one of the first victims of Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who bought the station a few weeks ago and took control of it at the beginning of July. Don't worry about Phil--he was already cohosting "The Tom Davis Show" broadcast on a Baltimore sports radio station (and simulcast by MASN)this past Saturday morning. But what he said about the reason for his departure from WTEM confirmed all my fears about what will be the sad future of sports talk radio in Washington.

Much of the talk since Snyder's purchase has revolved around whether he now will allow criticism of the Redskins on the stations--whether he will create some sort of "Pravda" version of sports radio. That's certainly an important concern, but I think a little bit overstated. There's no way to have a sports radio station that anyone would want to listen to without people criticizing the playcalling of the Jim Zorn in the game that week or complaining about Jason Campbell or saying that the Redskins should have drafted a defensive lineman. (I could see the Redskins owner decreeing no one could say anything bad about him on the air, which would probably make him look like more of an a-hole than anything anyone could say about him.)

No, the bigger problem is that Snyder would turn the station into all-Redskins, all-the-time, to the exclusion of all other teams in town. WTEM's biggest flaw as a station over the years is that a number of its hosts, most notably its afternoon rush hour team, either don't know enough about or don't care to talk about anything besides the Redskins and perhaps a little basketball on occassion. But the station has been making some improvements in that area over the last year, actually spending signifcant time during the Caps playoff run, for instance, talking hockey. But it looks like Snyder and his people don't like that.

Phil Wood said Saturday that WTEM's new program director told him that he didn't think the station wanted to "move forward" with a baseball show at this time. Remember, it's not like this was a daily program. Phil Wood's show was on two hours a week! Apparently, Dan Snyder thinks that's too much time to spend on talking about the Nationals. I can't imagine he'll treat the Caps, or anyone else besides the Redskins much differently. Those people who want to hear Larry Michael do live shows from Redskins Park 52 weeks a year are in luck. Every other Washington sports fan are not.

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