“The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat” was the old promo for ABC’s Wide World of Sports, and the second half of that phrase is truly apropos in reference to NBC’s coverage of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The almost haphazard cutting and pasting of events, sometimes broadcast after they were long over and results announced on other stations, seems an incongruous way to cover sporting events, especially something so important as the Olympic Games.
It is one thing when the games are coming from Australia or Asia – tape delays may seem acceptable in those cases, but Rio is only an hour ahead of EST, so there doesn’t seem to be much sense in the scheduling here. There also is the fact that some events seem not to be covered at all (admittedly, I didn’t watch every minute, but I saw little or nothing of track and field events).
So after covering the games many times before and hearing the critics, NBC seems to have learned nothing from those experiences. Besides the tape delays, the seemingly endless commercial breaks and annoying announcers tend to be the biggest weakness of the coverage. There is also the “fluff” which many viewers neither want nor need – yeah, we get that they are trying to fill all of the prime time schedule, but is hard to keep watching when you want to see a specific event and have to sit through what is basically filler.
The ratings were way down from 2012 coverage – perhaps 17 to 20% when all is said and done – and that is because people are forced to tune out. I have nothing against Bob Costas, but when they cut to him in a studio and he started talking, I immediately changed the channel. I wanted to see sporting events; I didn’t want to watch Costas talking about them.
And for everything NBC got right – the coverage of Michael Phelps and swimming events was well timed – they got twice as much wrong. The great Simone Biles and her fellow gymnasts were on way too late (especially for kids). And did we really need to see Matt Lauer in prime time interviewing Ryan Lochte, who disgraced his team and country? Also, no matter how “cute” it might have been, we also didn’t need Costas interviewing Simone Biles and Aly Raisman about their meeting with movie hunk Zac Efron (something NBC arranged no doubt in a desperate attempt to stoke the terrible ratings).
The problem is that NBC invests so much money to broadcast the Olympics that it has to get it back in advertising, so the frequent and long-winded commercial breaks are annoying but understood. We have almost been conditioned to accept that from a sporting event like the Super Bowl, but that is a one-day broadcast and not 16 days long. Besides the ads, how many times did we have to be subjected to NBC plugging its own shows, especially Timeless (which I am now deliberately never watching)?
The general feeling I got and also have heard from many others who were watching the games was that “We want more sports!” The Olympics is a sporting event, and we don’t need to see the fluff! The announcers and reporters (like the incompetent Al Trautwig who called Simone Biles’ adoptive parents her grandparents), Matt Lauer, and especially Bob Costas, have to listen to the critics and make some big changes, or they are in for some rude awakening in Tokyo in 2020.
Unfortunately, NBC has dropped a big wad ($12 billion) to cover the games until 2032, so we know we are in for more of the same unless someone in authority at NBC listens to all the negative feedback. For now, NBC’s credibility and reputation for covering sports has taken a tremendous hit, and that once proud peacock is sadly wilting away and going home from Rio with its tail between its legs – the agony of defeat indeed!