Our grades for London 2012 Olympic TV coverage … so far (7/30/12)

Google NBC and you will quickly see hundreds of news reports about how NBC is screwing up the London 2012 Olympic TV coverage. OtherScreen’s Community Manager Mike D’Avria watched a lot of London 2012 Olympic coverage for the first two days — A LOT — and gives his assessment of the TV coverage being provided.

First off, I love the Olympics. They represent the absolute best in sports. Most athletes in the Olympics — other than the U.S. Men’s Basketball team and several U.S. swimmers named Lochte and Phelps — do not have endorsement deals and are not millionaires. These athletes have to be their best at every single moment to achieve a Gold medal. I am an Olympics apologist, and will give the TV coverage by NBC and their cable networks the benefit of the doubt. I will judge them as harsh as possible, but will still watch almost all of the 5,353 hours they will cover over 17 days no matter how bad they are.

NBC Network Grade: C-

Most of the criticism about the London 2012 Olympic TV coverage is reserved specifically for the NBC Network — not for the other cable channels they are providing. This is really the only place that people in the U.S. can watch the Olympics for free. It’s also the only place to watch the Olympics if you want to feel like it’s the 1992 Barcelona games.

Most people are criticizing NBC because they are showing tape-delayed events during their primetime coverage. I actually do not have a problem with this. What else are they supposed to do? At 8 pm Eastern Time, it’s 1 am in London. There are no events going on. NBC paid more than a billion dollars to broadcast these games. They want to hold off on their biggest events —Gymnastics, Swimming, Beach Volleyball — until they can get a bigger audience.

The best thing about tape-delay is that we don’t have to watch the boring parts. NBC quickly went through the 3m Synchronized Women’s Diving event in about 20-minutes and only showed the best teams. If it’s on NBC primetime, it will be either a wonderful performance or a terrible one.

The problem comes in when they refuse to show anything good during the day. U.S.A. Basketball and Women’s Soccer is on NBC Sports Network and only the swimming qualifiers are being shown in the daytime. Instead of showing Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps live in the 400m IM, they cut to an interview with American Idol host Ryan Seacrest and some 16-year-old girls.

But, the main problem I have with NBC’s London 2012 Olympic TV coverage is that it just seems bad and poorly organized. During gymnastics, on several occasions, they would show a performance in its entirety. Then, instead of showing a score for that performance, they cut to another interview or a commercial. Why aren’t you showing the score? This is primetime! Why spend two-minutes watching a Chinese gymnast on the balance beam if we don’t know what her score is?

Speaking of interviews, the “sideline” interviews are pretty much useless when the U.S. wins a medal and completely useless when we don’t.

“Tell us what you are feeling right now?”

Come on. How are these “journalists” working anywhere other than the red carpet of a Real Housewives of New Jersey premiere? How do they feel? If they won: great! If they lost: sad.

And the in-studio interviews are even worse.

After the U.S. Men won Silver in Archery, NBC had an in-studio interview with the three archers. The NBC interviewer — no idea who it was (not Bob Costas or Dan Patrick) — had a lapel microphone attached. The three archers shared one handheld microphone they passed back and forth awkwardly. They even mentioned it a few times during the interview because the archers kept forgetting that they weren’t mic’d.

How does NBC pay a billion dollars and not have more microphones? Did they not think they were going to interview more than one person at a time?

It’s understandable that NBC wants people to watch their coverage in primetime, but they should at least get their primetime coverage correct.

NBC Cable Channels Grade: A

If doing a crappy job on the free NBC network channel and an even worse job online — more on that later — is on purpose so people watch the NBC cable channels, it’s working. NBC Sports Network is showing some amazing events — mostly those where the U.S. has a chance of a medal — MSNBC is showing the more unusual events like Handball and Weightlifting, CNBC is Boxing all the time, and Bravo is showing Tennis. There is also a All Soccer and All Basketball channel.

NBC gets London 2012 Olympic TV coverage right on their cable networks. The events they are showing are live and the lesser-known athletes are getting top-billing on these channels.

And, since it’s not network TV, the personalities doing color commentating are experts in the sports they’re covering — not just NBC personalities giving trivial information they found on Twitter.

These announcers actually teach the viewers about these lesser-known sports and they know actual information about the competitors. Plus, there are almost no boring and useless interviews on the cable channels.

NBCOlympics.com Online Feed Grade: F

The only way to stream live events on NBCOlympics.com is if you pay for a cable or satellite package that has the MSNBC and CNBC channels in them. Typically, these packages cost at least $60-a-month. Many people are complaining about this. They “cut the cord,” but still want to watch TV. “Cutting the cord” doesn’t really mean what people think it does if they still want to watch cable TV. Live sports are what makes people keep their cord, and TV providers know this.

I don’t feel sorry for the thousands of people complaining that they aren’t able to stream the Olympic coverage for free. Why do people think they are entitled to free Olympic coverage of every event just because they pay $30-a-month for broadband Internet?

Just because the technology is made available does not mean it should be free.

End of that rant; start of new rant.

I do pay for a satellite package so I get to stream live events. Verdict: it’s pretty much crap.

On several occasions I have tuned in to watch a swimming event to see this order of events happen:

- Introductions of swimmers
- No explanation of what race it is
- Swimmers dive in
- Feed cuts out
- Feed comes back in
- Swimmers are no longer swimming and are celebrating/crying

What? Seeing the first 20-seconds of a race and not the end is the worst thing ever. And don’t blame this on my Internet. My Internet speed is awesome — I work for a Social TV app that demands it. This has happened at home and at the office.

Now, if you can get the feed to work, there is almost no explanation of what is going on because most of the events do not have announcers and plenty do not have graphics. It’s like someone set-up a camera, pressed on, and then walked away.

This sort of makes you feel like you are actually in London, but it’s really hard to watch during some of the events that need explanation. Like fencing. You get to hear the judge speak in French terms as both fencers lights go off. Both fencers celebrate, and then a few seconds later one of them gets a point. Huh?

Beach Volleyball is just a feed with the athletes playing the game while the stadium plays the hits of Chumbawamba — so basically just “Tubthumping” over and over again.

I will give the online stream some credit when they use the BBC announcers for the bigger events. They seem to know what they are doing, and it’s not just about Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. They occasionally mention the swimmers in the other six lanes, unlike NBC.

Conclusion

Maybe this is just the first few days and things will get better. NBC might buy more microphones and they may realize that no one wants to see Ryan Seacrest. Their online bandwidth might improve and they might decide that they need some experts from the NBC cable channels to come over to the network coverage.

But, it just doesn’t matter what we think because NBC has already reported that their primetime ratings are better than they were four years ago in Beijing. So, maybe NBC and their parent company Kable Town knows what they are doing.

(Self promotion coming) Of course, the best way to watch these Olympics is with OtherScreen. It doesn’t matter if these games are live or tape-delayed. The people playing our Primetime events are having a blast. Instead of asking who wins Gold, we asked “Whose name is said more times during this event?” During the 400m IM it was Lochte (19) to Phelps (16). During Beach Volleyball we asked, “What happens first: The U.S. gets to 10 points or we see a VISA commercial?” We have hundreds of questions — including trivia — that are making these games a blast. Come join us. (End of self promotion)

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