NBC Olympics coverage -- What the network did right
If you get all your news on the internet (thank you for reading!), you may have the impression that NBC has been an utter failure during the London Olympics — a disappointment to the nation, a puddle of undeserved sweat, not even worthy of bronze. Can you imagine if Ryan Seacrest had devoted a “Social Download” segment to the rise and continued rise of the prevalent hashtag #NBCFail? He might have had to cut out Angelina’s leg to get the point across!
But while the same few thousand people who write all of the articles on the internet complained about #NBCFail, it turned out plenty of television viewers were satisfied. As early as Aug. 6, still in the wake of the tape-delayed PhelpsGate, a Pew survey found that 76 percent of the Olympics watchers described NBC’s coverage as excellent or good. Overall ratings were up 12 percent from Beijing, a surprise considering that four years ago, NBC was able to air marquee events from those Games live in prime time. The network has secured the rights to the Olympics through 2020, so it couldn’t hurt to try to look on the bright side.
So yeah, while NBC did make some mistakes — spoiling their own prime time coverage with a Today promo, failing to air a big Michael Phelps race live, and whiffing it on men’s gymnastics — here’s what they did right:
Good looking out: The cinematography of the London landscape and skyline was consistently stunning. I just wanted to be dropped from a plane at every turn.
Live Streaming: NBC made a wise choice to lift the restriction on their live streams so that anyone — not just Comcast subscribers — could watch. Duh. Starting July 31, everyone could watch everything. As long as the picture on the Olympics Live Extra app didn’t freeze on your device, you were golden. Otherwise, tough crumpets.
The regular old daytime coverage on TV was also very solid. I took my job of live-tweeting prime time very seriously, but those awesome 8-hour chunks from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. were my real jam on the DVR. Because I did need to see every event final of rhythmic gymnastics. Thank you for understanding. By week 2, I don’t think anyone could have complained about a lack of event coverage, even though everything seemed to be happening at once. I’ll be plowing through these full work days’ worth of sports I don’t really care about for at least another week.
Package deal: Just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be another tear-jerking getting-to-know-you segment for yet another outstanding athlete, the treacly music kicked in and the tales of hardship were off and running. These background stories took us from Missy Franklin’s high school to the dirt road track in Kenya that middle distance runner David Rudisha had to scoop out with his own hands. They even had a package on 4x400m relay replacement and gunshot survivor Bryshon Nellum ready to go. Impressive.
Used Seacrest sparingly: That almost sounds like an Olympic event, huh? After realizing that devoting massive amounts of prime time to Ryan Seacrest’s “Social Download” segments was ridiculous (thanks for telling them, TWITTER), NBC eased up. His occasional presence in prime time was still jarring, but some of his pre-taped daytime segments were harmless fun. I especially liked his interview with Kobe Bryant, MVP of Olympics Spectating — we saw footage of him at all the events and heard his impressions for the first time.
Kept commercials brief: Sometimes — especially during a timeout or break between games within the same event — we’d only see one, maybe two ads. Pretty sweet deal (except when I was left furiously rewinding the next five minutes of SPORTS! on my DVR because I’d expected 17 commercials).
Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines: The swimming tag-team’s insistence on standing ohhhhh so close together was both maddening and mesmerizing, offering a “Will they or won’t they?” subplot that kept us riveted to our seats throughout the best swim meet ever. Their genuine enthusiasm for the sport and each other made NBC’s early gaffes a lot easier to swallow.
Mary’s pop-ins: Granted, I freaked out when Mary Carillo’s exposé on the prime-freaking-meridian interrupted a U.S. beach volleyball match in prime time. Uncalled for. But overall, I really enjoyed Mary and the we’re-winging-it! vibe she brought to “Late Night” coverage. Her Oscar Pistorius segment, during which she called the disabled South African sprinter a “cyborg kangaroo,” was heartwarming and welcome alongside the rest of the track and field coverage. His was a huge story and I’m glad he talked to her. As for the rest of Mary’s “This is…..London” segments, well, if NBC wants this towering pillar of frankness to teach me about bagpipes and James Bond and a mysterious foreign beverage called “tea,” that’s fine. Just don’t interrupt my volleyball!
NEXT PAGE: Let’s just bring in Jimmy Fallon. Twitter will FLIP OUT.
Flew in the funny: As long as Jimmy Fallon’s on the NBC payroll, why not beam him to London to write some thank-you notes as Bob Costas pretends to play the piano? This is the kind of hard-hitting sports coverage they could have used on Day 2.
Perfected the Twinscam: For synchronized swimming, NBC incorporated the Twinscam, a 2010 Japanese technology that tricks the viewer by combining feeds from two cameras — one above the water and one below — for a complete shot of whatever masterful craziness was happening in the pool. Who knew? I’m so glad I know now. (Let’s get this sport on TV every Sunday at 3 p.m. when I’m at peak laziness for the week, mmmkay?)
Bob Costas’ hipster Harry Potter glasses: Gotta keep it fresh and youthful! I still can’t believe our peerless leader held out ’til Day 13 to introduce those badboys. Even though I resented that they symbolized the fleeting nature of the Olympics, I have to admit these specs provided a significant twist to the plot.
Spotlight on parents/coaches: Likely in response to the popularity of a clip of gymnast Aly Raisman’s parents freaking out during her routine, NBC made sure to mic up all the parents and coaches at the diving competitions later in the Games. I can still hear the “Wowwwww”s of Olympic Stud David Boudia‘s coach as I’m falling asleep. And that’s okay!
Key visuals: I prefer watching tape-delayed events because they allow the network so much time to edit slow-motion shots. This crossfade of Carmelita Jeter and the “NEW WR” notice on the clock was the perfect way to cap off one of my best London 2012 cries — when the U.S. women “destroyed” the record in the 4x100m relay on Friday.
I also appreciated how the cameras got super close to the athletes during their most private times so that I could think preposterous thoughts like “She’s in the lead? I could win this event.” Hope is a powerful thing.
Helpful chyrons: NBC liked to scan the audience and find athletes we might recognize. Some were pertinent to the sport:
While others were simply VIPs:
They always knew exactly where to place the info!
And now that I’ve gotten as specific as “chyrons,” I think I’ll stop.
Yes, there were problems. But as a hungry, hungry Olympics viewer with a low sense of urgency — who delights at a DVR backlog of “canoeing, gymnastics, basketball, fencing” descriptions — I had more than enough on TV to keep me happy for 17 days. I could be more picky, but what’s the point? This is the channel the Olympics were on and I liked them as much as ever.