During American television coverage of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, NBC and its affiliated cable networks (particularly NBC itself) produced an awful broadcast of the most significant international multi-sport event in the world. Even though Rio is only two hours ahead of U.S. Central Daylight Time during the month of August, the opening and closing ceremonies were broadcast on a tape delay (and heavily edited to remove some portions of both ceremonies), many events, even some popular events with popular athletes, were broadcast on a tape delay, if not pre-empted completely, many sports (such as rugby sevens and wrestling) did not have a single medal-earning event broadcast on over-the-air television, and, in some instances, NBC announcers acted in a sexist manner when talking about female athletes (notable examples of this include NBC swimming announcer Dan Hicks crediting the husband of the swimmer for a female Hungarian swimmer winning gold in the women’s 400m individual medley and one of the Golf Channel announcers referring to female American golfer Stacy Lewis as “grumpy”). Long story short, NBC did nearly everything to alienate millennials and feminists during the Olympics.
Instead of outlining plans to improve NBC’s coverage to adapt to modern society (many Americans found it easier to get Olympic results via Twitter and other social media websites than watching actual television coverage of the Games; in fact, #Rio2016 is still a trending hashtag on Twitter, even more than a week after the closing ceremony), NBC/Comcast executives are simply blaming millennials for the Olympic coverage’s low ratings.
While I enjoyed watching the Olympics this year, here are some of my complaints about the Olympic coverage on NBC and its affiliated cable networks (I’m not considering factors that are completely out of NBC’s control, such as weather delays/event postponements and the quality of the world feeds that Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS) provides to each country’s Olympic broadcast rights-holder):
Too much volleyball on network television!
If it weren’t for NBC providing quite a bit of time covering sports like track and field and swimming and NBC’s affiliated cable channels airing many other sports, American television viewers would think that the Summer Olympics were nothing more than a couple of indoor and beach volleyball tournaments, since volleyball (both indoor and beach), compromised a large amount of NBC’s over-the-air coverage of the games. The Olympics should be treated as the multi-sport event that it is, not as a glorified tournament for a single sport.
Too few medal events on network television!
In a surprisingly large number of Olympic sports that were part of the 2016 summer program, not a single medal-earning event aired on the over-the-air NBC network. Among the sports that were, to my knowledge, not seen on American English-language over-the-air television include tennis (although cable channel Bravo acted as a de facto Olympic tennis channel during the Games), rugby sevens (which bounced around between several different cable channels to the point of confusing American rugby fans), judo, taekwondo (I don’t recall any English-language television broadcast of taekwondo in the U.S. during the games), wrestling, boxing, badminton, table tennis, modern pentathlon, soccer (probably the most popular Olympic sport not broadcast over-the-air in the U.S.) and sailing (I also don’t recall any English-language television broadcast of sailing in the U.S. during the games).
Too much tape-delaying!
Tape-delaying the opening and closing ceremonies is a slap to the face to American television viewers. Also, even some of the more popular Olympic sports here in the U.S., such as gymnastics and diving, got the ol’ Memorex treatment from NBC.
NBC’s imperialist attitude towards the Games
NBC thinks that, because they spent a bunch of money to secure U.S. Olympic broadcasting rights until the Games of the XXXV Olympiad of 2032 (host city to be determined), they can single-handedly control every single thing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the organizers of a particular Olympic Games does. A notable example of this was when NBC tried to bully the Rio Olympic organizers into conducing the Parade of Nations (which occurs during the opening ceremony) with the countries entering in English alphabetical order, despite the fact that the host country, Brazil, is a predominantly Portuguese-speaking country (the Portuguese-language name for the United States begins with the letter “E”, not the letter “U” like it does in English), and English is not a commonly-spoken language in Brazil. The Olympic organizers rejected that idea almost immediately, and NBC insulted American viewers by claiming that many American viewers simply change the channel or turn off the TV once the U.S. Olympic team enters the site of the opening ceremony during the Parade of Nations.
Here’s some of my suggestions to NBC for how to improve their Olympic coverage:
Air as many medal-earning events on the NBC over-the-air network either live in their entirety, live-but-joined in progress, or on as short of a tape delay as practically possible
Instead of structuring the NBC over-the-air Olympic broadcast schedule around the schedules of local NBC affiliates or to avoid airing Olympic events in the U.S. overnight hours, NBC should schedule 15 straight hours of Olympic coverage on most days in a time block corresponding to an 8 A.M. to 11 P.M. time block in the host city’s local time. Exceptions to this are any pre-opening ceremony prelims (which would be aired on NBCSN), and the days of the opening and closing ceremonies (opening and closing ceremonies would be aired live on NBC, regardless of time of day; during day of closing ceremony, coverage of the final medal-earning events would run until the conclusion of final medal event). If NBC were to use this broadcast pattern for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the NBC live broadcast window would run from 5 P.M. on one day to 8 A.M. the next day U.S. Central Standard Time. This would allow 9 hours per day for NBC affiliates to air a 30-minute local newscast, a 30-minute NBC network newscast, FCC-mandated educational programming (3 hours-per-week mandate), and three hours of tape-delayed NBC Olympic highlights. Assuming that the children’s programming is aired in a late-morning slot in 90-minute blocks on both weekend days, that would leave no fewer than four and a half hours for affiliates to air syndicated programming and/or additional local newscasts (six hours on weekdays). Airing the FCC-mandated educational programming in an approved time slot (sometime between 7 A.M. and 10 P.M.) would be a challenge if an American host city or another country that was one hour ahead of part of the United States, and would probably require the FCC and/or Congress to grant every NBC affiliate in the country a temporary waiver to the E/I rule that would only apply during the Olympics. In the absence of such a waiver, scheduling either a single 13 1/2-hour live block of two days of the week, a single 14-hour live block on three days of the week, or adopting a split time block arrangement of some kind, with educational programming inserted between blocks of network Olympic coverage.
Most importantly, gold medal-earning events would be prioritized, regardless of sport, and at least one gold medal-earning event in every Olympic sport and discipline contested in a particular year would be televised on over-the-air television. Secondary priority would be given to events that are not gold medal-earning events, but events where silver and/or bronze medals are at stake. No preliminary events would air on over-the-air television.
Prioritize actual sporting events over interviews, documentary-style feature segments, etc.
Leave the interviews and documentary-style feature segments to either the over-the-air highlights show or, if filler material between medal events is needed, during the 15-hour over-the-air live block between medal events. Also, interviews and feature segments should be no more than 5 minutes in length.
Use NBCSN to air any medal events that can’t be aired on NBC
NBC’s primary cable television outlet for sports broadcasting is, indisputably, NBCSN, so, if there’s Olympic events being played, NBCSN should be on-air and, if practically possible, live with either a medal-earning event that NBC is unable to air or a featured preliminary event. NBCSN is a cable channel, not an over-the-air channel, so it isn’t bound by FCC regulations on educational programming.
CNBC, USA, and, if needed, MSNBC, Bravo, and Golf Channel can serve as dedicated channels for some of the more popular Olympic sports
In recent Summer Olympiads, Bravo has served as a de facto Olympic tennis channel and Golf Channel aired the 2016 Olympic golf events in their entirety. MSNBC could serve as a dedicated Olympic gymnastics channel during the Summer Olympics, CNBC could serve as a dedicated track-and-field channel during the Summer Olympics and a dedicated ice hockey channel during the Winter Olympics, and USA could serve as a dedicated swimming channel during the Summer Olympics and a dedicated curling channel during the Winter Olympics. Any non-Olympic sporting events (such as NASCAR and English Premier League soccer) could be aired on The Weather Channel commercial-free (although 2-to-3-minute weather updates by The Weather Channel’s on-air personnel would be inserted where commercials ordinarily would be inserted).
Give each sport at least one dedicated cable channel during the Olympics, so that those with a cable or satellite television package that includes NBCSN and a willing cable or satellite provider would be able to watch the Olympics a la carte, with every event televised live and in its entirety
NBC offers cable and satellite providers stand-alone Olympic soccer and basketball channels during the Summer Olympics, so why not do so for every other Summer Olympic sport and every Winter Olympic sport during the Games? One channel could be devoted to ceremonies (opening ceremony, closing ceremony, medal ceremonies, gymnastics gala in the summer, and figure skating gala in the winter), and each Olympic sport and discipline contested in a particular season would get as many channels dedicated to it as needed in order to air every single Olympic event live and in its entirety, even if there’s delays or postponements forcing schedule changes and/or it means effectively simulcasting NBC or an affiliated cable channel
Limit commercials to no more than four minutes per hour
If CBS can air 56 minutes of golf per hour during The Masters, than NBC and its affiliated broadcasting platforms should be able to air 56 minutes of sporting competition per hour for a much larger sporting event.
Respect the Olympics and the athletes who participate in it
Even if NBC were to air only thirty minutes of black-and-white film coverage of a future Summer or Winter Games roughly 18 months after the conclusion of the Games, they should at least have their on-air personnel respect the Games and the athletes who participate in the Games, who come from many different countries and backgrounds.