Sunday, July 29, 2012

NBC you later: network comes in last in Olympic coverage

So, how's it goin' so far, NBC?

NBC, how do viewers hate thee? Let me count the ways...

As many have pointed out, the best sport going on at the Olympics might very well be the NBC-bashing event, happening now on Twitter at the #nbc and #nbcfail hashtags.

Among the network's perceived crimes: delaying coverage of what everyone else on planet Earth is seeing live, providing poor commentary, cutting content, showing too many commercials at inopportune times, and hiring Ryan Seacrest (in no particular order).

In Canada, this discussion is mostly academic: we can see the NBC Olympic coverage if we like, but we don't need to, because our own CTV is showing it live (on TV and its iPad app, which I've been using regularly to catch up).

Who is the audience? Hint: look online

There isn't a lot that offends me, but at the top of the list, among incompetent managers and bad customer service, is traditional media trying to preserve its old business model at the expense of its audience.

You remember the audience? It used to be the silent, passive people sitting at home on their couches, happy to lap up what the gatekeepers fed them, when it fed it to them. In that way, TV was a one-way medium: what other choice did we have?

But new media changed TV into a real-time, worldwide, two-way medium and made information impossible to control. It lifted the veil from the old system - just like the Wizard of Oz! - and gave us a voice with which to complain to and about our former media overlords.

Now TV networks and stations are scrambling to figure out how to best serve audiences and advertisers. NBC's strategy is to choke its content into prime time, so that it can sell commercial time to advertisers who can be guaranteed that the audience will be watching it at once.

The trouble with this approach is it requires everyone to pretend that events aren't happening live and to say away from Twitter. Are we OK with that? Memo to old media: this might be how you gain viewers in the short term, but it's how you lose them over time. 

It also looks bad to pretend that things are great because ratings are up when millions of people are slamming you online. Every PR student knows that ignoring a crisis doesn't make it go away, and that numbers don't necessarily mean "success." Nielsen says that ratings are up, but it doesn't measure viewer satisfaction.

And how does NBC explain spoiling its own Olympic coverage yesterday when Brian Williams led the NBC Nightly News with the day's top story about the results of a certain swimming competition, sans spoiler alert, before his own network showed the event?

How could one of the biggest media conglomerates on the planet not coordinate its news and sports divisions? That's just incompetence.

Here's what other media outlets are saying:

1. Forbes: #NBCfail gets Olympic Size: Is It Going Any Better in Canada?

2. Business Insider: #nbcfail Economics

3. USA Today: #NBCfail: Olympic lead-in spills results ahead of broadcast

4. Twitter: the Tweetwally scroll at the top of this blog is tracking the #nbcfail hashtag

5. LA Times: NBC defends blackout of opening ceremony

Gatekeeper: tear down this wall

NBC's response to not showing the opening ceremony live? The LA Times quotes an NBC spokesperson in the article above: 
"It was never our intent to live stream the Opening Ceremony or Closing Ceremony. They are complex entertainment spectacles that do not translate well online because they require context, which our award-winning production team will provide for the large prime-time audiences that gather together to watch them."
It's the classic mistake of the old-school gatekeeper: "the news doesn't happen until we say it happens" and "the audience doesn't have the faculties to understand unfiltered media on their own." So, audience, get back on your couch, shut up, and just be thankful you're seeing anything.

It reminds me of the time the school at which I teach brought in a well-known TV reporter as a guest speaker. Told in advance that the reporter wanted to talk about new media, it became instantly clear that this person distrusted and disliked social media, and wanted to convince people to go back to the good old days of the "I'll tell a story while you listen" model.

The conversation went along these lines:
Famous person: "Don't you want trusted sources?"
Student: "The people you follow on Twitter are your trusted sources."
Famous person: "But we're the storytellers."
Student: "But so are we."

How much longer, I wonder, until the rights to the Olympics will go not to NBC, but to Apple or YouTube or Twitter?

One day soon, we'll look back at this time and chuckle about how NBC just didn't get it. It might even make a great movie (or whatever replaces movies). Might I suggest a title?


  1. It may be a super-lame move on NBC's part, but it does appear to be paying off from a viewership (ergo, sponsorship/ad dollars) perspective:

    "The numbers suggest NBC’s tape-delay strategy is paying off (or, at the very least, is not hurting the network’s overall Summer Olympics coverage popularity)... Saturday night averaged an enormous 28.7 million viewers — the most watched opening night on record for a summer edition of the Olympics."

  2. NBC's model is being attacked but it seems to be working for them as they have had record ratings for the opening ceremonies and last night in prime time. CTV/TSN puts out a better product and from what I've read NBC has made a bunch of bonehead moves but at the end of the day they've got money to make. So they're going to annoy some people who don't work during the day.

    Most Watched Summer Games Opening Ceremony

    Most Watched 1st Night of Competition

    Only the Salt Lake City games had a higher rated Opening Ceremonies.

  3. Thanks for the comments! Yep, it's working, because the audience has no choice. But its success relies on withholding a live event, ignoring the existence of Twitter, and equating success with numbers, "audience be damned."


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