The Numbers Don’t Lie – NBC Olympics Coverage

Participating in my legal fellowship in Arizona this week, the tape delayed coverage of the 2012 London Olympic games is even more of a delay here than it is on the east coast and in middle America in the central time zone.  Busy with travel and registration on Saturday, I got a text from Clayton asking me if I’d seen the #nbcfail complaints and protests on Twitter.  I quickly checked it out, chuckled to myself, and defended NBC to Clayton.  Later last night, I realized the legitimacy of some of the complaints.

Put the tape delay argument aside for a moment. The lengthy commercials, dragging out suspense leading up to the first Lochte/Phelps matchup like Ryan Seacrest does before American Idol eliminations, were more than a little annoying.  But I kept the TV tuned on until the race anyways, with my eyes as glued to the race as it ever was in 2008.

The drama wasn’t quite as intense as it was in 2008 while watching in a dive bar with 100 Nashvillians chanting U-S-A and singing the National Anthem.  But the TV was tuned in and my eyes couldn’t look away from the first Olympic race since 2000 where Phelps didn’t medal.  AND I already knew the results from the internet and from Twitter…

… which brings me to my argument – the numbers simply do not lie.  A lot can be said (and in the internet age, boy has a lot been said!) for what would be ideal for viewers.  Sure, major events being aired live on TV AND then in a primetime highlights package seems to make the most sense. But who are we to argue with NBC, the ones putting up literally billions of dollars to provide these telecasts across multiple TV stations and internet platforms?? They are putting up the money, they’re the one’s producing, and they’re the one’s providing us this unique service. (And yes, we can complain about production value, such as men’s basketball game coverage, which felt like TV coverage from the early 90s.)

But the numbers do not lie. We can debate what the numbers mean, what they could be, and all the various business models that are used and could be used.  We can debate if the primetime numbers would be higher if they showed the races live on television earlier in the day as well. But, instead, here are some reasons why the opening night of competition had the highest ratings ever.

– People want to watch the top events communally.  When is the time of day in which people plan things together, not working and running errands and other commitments of life? That’s right – primetime. Primetime is when the most people are going to watch.  It’s why all the advertising and commercial money is there.  NBC is selling the ads for the highest price not as some grand conspiracy to keep us from seeing the main events live – the money follows the viewers. And the viewers are going to be watching at night, in primetime.

– People really like a highlights package of all the top, most popular, most superstar-studded events.  If these events were aired live, then they all would not be together as they are right now, in one commercialized package.

– THE MAIN REASON THE RATINGS SOAR IN SPITE OF TAPE-DELAYED EVENTS: there are two groups of people who are watching the Olympics.  The first group is people on Twitter, Facebook, and the internet all day, every day.  These people are getting spoiled and they’re tweeting the #nbcfail hashtag.  But many of them are still watching the NBC coverage during primetime with roommates, family, or friends… and tweeting and Facebooking about the coverage, the interviews, and the competition itself.  They’re still watching.  The second group of people are those who aren’t online non-stop, who are busy all day or not online for whatever other reason.  And they’re not getting online until the evening (if at all) when watching the Olympics primetime coverage.  As you can see, regardless, people are watching.  They may be whining and complaining.  But they’re still watching.  And like we’ve seen higher-than-recent averages for many awards shows and other cultural television events, we’re seeing them early on in the Olympics as well. Why? Multiple-screen viewing.  People may not have the Olympics on. But then they see the headlines online, they see the Facebook statuses, they see the tweets.  And they turn the channel while they’re surfing the internet, so they can be a part of the global online conversation about…

Jordyn Wieber heartbreakingly getting screwed by IOC rules.

The women’s American gymnastics team domination.

Lochte’s triumph and Phelps’s fall to earth…

… followed by Phelps’s speedy relay leg and Lochte’s loss of the team lead to the French.

Two days of competition and we already have drama, controversy, triumph, and heartbreak.  We’ve only just begun.

While so many of us complain about the NBC coverage, we still watch.  We still tweet.  And we still discuss! The Olympics are that big of a deal… the story lines are that good… the competitions are that unique.  Could the coverage be better? Sure. But we complained about tape delay back in the 2010 games as well, and yet we’re still showing up in record numbers for these London games. And we’ll continue to do so… because even though the result may be spoiled, the details are where the magic is.  And we’ll keep tuning in… to be a part of the conversation online, and to witness history at every step.


Posted on by Joseph Williams in Other Sports, Sports, Television

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