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Tag: rant

once again, u.s. olympics fans lose to nbc myopia

Back in 2010, I wrote a post on this blog that criticized NBC’s dumbed-down approach to covering the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, expressing hope that NBC might – just might – improve things for 2012, 2014 and beyond.

You can read that post here. Go ahead, read it – I’ll wait…

Done? Good. Now let’s see what has happened since then.

In January of this year, NBC pulled over-the-air (OTA) broadcasting of its Universal Sports channel, making it a cable and satellite-only, premium subscription network. It seems that the OTA presence was nothing more than a “trial balloon” to see if the network was viable. So, under the guise of “improving broadcast quality,” NBC moved the network behind a paywall.

So for us OTA-only viewers, we have… just NBC.

And what does NBC do with their broadcasting? They show some events live and (relatively) uncut, during hours when most U.S. viewers are either at work or asleep. The primetime coverage? Well, I covered that in 2010:

NBC is showing sliced-and-diced coverage: coverage where events are shown in a non-contiguous manner, with rapid-fire switching between events and frequent interruptions of coverage with so-called “human interest” stories about Canada, culture, athletes with “inspiring stories,” et al. The only events with more-or-less contiguous coverage are daytime events that have lower viewership, hockey and figure skating. If you are a fan of alpine skiing (like me), bobsled, luge, ski jumping or long-track speed skating, the coverage is “custom fit” to showcase Team USA and “select favorites for the events.”

Substitute “England” for “Canada,” and various summer sports for the winter sports mentioned, and it’s the same basic thing.

I compare this to the BBC’s coverage for the London games, which includes:

  • all-day event coverage on BBC One
  • all-day coverage on BBC Three, usually of uncut events
  • web streaming of all events, live and interruption-free

Any UK-located fan of the games can watch this stuff for free (OK, folks in the UK do pay for a “television license” when they buy a TV, but that’s academic – it’s essentially free). They’re even offering everything in high-definition, and some events (such as the Danny Boyle-concocted opening ceremony and the 100-meter dash) in 3-D.

Put simply: it’s immersive, thorough, and damned impressive.

Of course, you need to be a UK resident to see any of this. Sure, there are ways for folks outside of the UK can watch this, but I won’t go into that (it’s not hard to figure out with visits to the search firm of Google & Bing, Ltd.).

And NBC? Online streaming is only available to cable and satellite subscribers, as are the iOS and Android apps. Us OTA folk have the basic NBC stuff, which, as The Onion snarkily (but, sadly, accurately) implies, is aimed at soccer moms.

And us fans of sport? Once again, we’re left with crap.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ll watch a lot of the crap NBC gives us “disgraceful” OTA viewers. And I’ll find ways to watch the other events as presented by networks that seem to value the intelligence of their viewers.

And guess what? NBC has the IOC’s exclusive license to show the Olympic Games in the U.S. until 2022.

Ugh.

random olympics: how not to broadcast a showcase event

I need only look at last night’s abomination of a broadcast from the National Broadcasting Corporation to see some of the worst possible chop-shop, dumbed-down sports broadcasting ever put on TV. This four-and-a-half hour long exercise in broadcast futility can be broken down thusly:

The showcase event of alpine skiing, the men’s downhill, featured six racers out of 64 starters. These included:

  • Two of four starters from Team USA (including Bode Miller, the bronze medal winner).
  • Two of four starters from Team Switzerland (including Didier Defago, the gold medal winner).
  • One Norwegian (Aksel Lund Svindal, the silver medal winner).
  • One Canadian (Robbie Dixon, who crashed out of the race).

During this coverage there were four commercial breaks of 2:30 per break. The six racers accounted for a grand total of 11 minutes of racing time, plus about 4 minutes of interviews.

(Congratulations, by the way, to all three medalists, who raced to the most closely contested downhill in Winter Olympic history. And welcome back to the good side of media coverage, Mr. Miller.)

The next segment was a feature on polar bears who, as far as I know, are not competing in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. This was around 10 minutes, all told.

The following segment of speed skating had problems due to no fault of NBC, but that of broken Zambonis at the Richmond Oval.

There was about 12 minutes of coverage of snowboard cross, which featured one of the most compelling final rounds I’ve ever seen on a slope, be it skiing or snowboarding. This round was shoehorned in between rounds of…

Pairs figure skating! Yup, there was tons of figure skating on NBC last night. And that also meant way too much commentary from Dick Button, who sounds increasingly like Abe Simpson complaining about the applesauce in the Springfield Retirement Home. At least they have Scott Hamilton doing the play-by-play (he at least understands the athletic aspects of modern figure skating).

And the quality of skating, save for the top two pairs, was woeful. I mean, it was awful: crashes, slow-pace, spinning to a stop, the works. If these were truly the best the world had to offer, it’s a sad statement about modern figure skating. Seriously, it looked like Jamie Salé and David Pelltier were ready to bust out of the broadcast booth, strap on their skates and show these clowns how to actually skate with feeling and ability.

Back to my point: NBC dedicated more than half of the night’s broadcast to figure skating, showing many of the pairs in a sport that is so made-for-TV silly as to be painful. Granted, I enjoyed watching the two Chinese pairs who finished 1-2, as they looked like they actually were skating to win. So that was, what, almost 9 minutes of compelling coverage?

Otherwise, there were interview pieces (about 20-25 minutes of ’em), the worst of which featured Chris “I Can Only Really Broadcast NFL Football” Collinsworth interviewing Lindsey Jacobellis, the U.S. snowboarder whose hubris in 2006 was legendary. And Collinsworth asked her the same questions she’s been asked over the past four years, getting the same answers as every other interviewer. Why did NBC fly this clown to Vancouver?

Oh, and there was over one hour of commercial time during the 4.5 hour broadcast time. I guess that NBC Universal wants to recoup as much of the financial loss as possible.

NBC, you remain pathetic.

random olympics: nbc’s dumbed down games racket

For years, I’ve been critical of TV coverage of the Olympic Games by the United States media.

They think that the average American is stupid.

No, seriously – they do. Thee assume that, as a whole, we know nothing about sports other than baseball, football, basketball, NASCAR and hockey. They think that we’re only interested in Team USA and its athletes, or barring that, the athletes who “overcame every obstacle to get to the games.”

What’s lost in all of this? Showing the beauty of the competition as it unfolds, on its own, with the venue and the athletes as the stars.

That brings me to the National Broadcasting Company – a.k.a. NBC. They have exclusive U.S. broadcast rights for the Olympics Games, both summer and winter, through 2018. This means that any and every bit of live or same-day-delayed footage of the Games, be it TV or internet, must be distributed by them.

As such, it sucks – big time. Let’s break this down:

NBC has five networks at their disposal for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games: NBC, Universal Sports, CNBC, MSNBC and USA Network. They also have the online presence of NBCOlympics.com.

There are a large number of events at the 2010 Games, many of which run simultaneously throughout the day, so it would seem that NBC, with their large investment in the games, would flex their collective broadcast muscle to show as many events as possible in as complete and immersive a way as possible.

But they don’t – and they won’t.

Here’s how they don’t:

Say, for instance, you are like me and get all of your TV from over-the-air broadcasting (i.e. no cable, no dish). There are two NBC networks available for Olympic broadcasting: NBC and Universal Sports. And how are they using these networks?

NBC is showing sliced-and-diced coverage: coverage where events are shown in a non-contiguous manner, with rapid-fire switching between events and frequent interruptions of coverage with so-called “human interest” stories about Canada, culture, athletes with “inspiring stories,” et al. The only events with more-or-less contiguous coverage are daytime events that have lower viewership, hockey and figure skating. If you are a fan of alpine skiing (like me), bobsled, luge, ski jumping or long-track speed skating, the coverage is “custom fit” to showcase Team USA and “select favorites for the events.”

Ugh.

And it gets worse when you count in Universal Sports, a usually wonderful network that is now saddled with “talking head” shows, where commentators blather on at length about sports and athletes without showing a shred of actual competition. During prime time, Universal Sports shows reruns of pre-Olympic competition that has zero bearing on the day’s competition in Vancouver and Whistler.

In a word: pathetic.

When you add in the cable networks, it gets even more warped. The combined power of CNBC, MSNBC and USA Network are showing hours upon hours of hockey (in all fairness, they’re showing both the men and the women) and some curling (ooh – curling, the most non-athletic event at the Winter Olympic Games!). Furthermore, they seldom show Games coverage is NBC if showing something on their flagship network, and haven’t yet scheduled anything in prime time to challenge the mother ship.

And just when you thought that was absurd enough, there’s the internet factor. NBCOlympics.com is the go-to place for internet coverage of the Games in the United States. They seem to offer a gold mine of great content, including live streams of skiing, speed skating, hockey, curling, ski jumping, luge, bobsled – the works! They even offer full event recap footage, with all of the competitors shown – hot dog!

But….

If you try to access this content and are not a subscriber to a cable or satellite TV service, you are shit outta luck – “no content for you!” screams the National Broadcast Company. Sure, there’s some online video content available, but it’s all the “fluff piece” human interest interstitial bits, a montage of “hugs and tears” from the previous night’s figure skating competition, a bit on the science of the slap shot, and other things that have nothing to do with the day’s events.

If this is a direct result of the impending merger of NBC Universal and Comcast, consider me angry. Furthermore, this preferential content system is a slap in the face of net neutrality, a cause I believe in most strongly. If NBC’s argument is that people using non-cable internet providers “aren’t paying for content,” then riddle me this: I’m paying for my DSL connection, therefore I’m paying for access to content. Where’s the difference between that and cable TV?

Furthermore, if I had cable-provided internet and TV, why would I be watching events online if they were also available on TV broadcast?

I understand that NBC is a business and has a lot of money invested in broadcasting the Olympics. In fact, it’s estimated that they overpaid for the broadcast rights to the 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016 Games to the tune of over $200 million.

I also understand that their two over-the-air networks are governed by the FCC and must provide a public service. And I see their mauling of the content on NBC, combined with the complete waste of their Universal Sports network with pointless talk shows, to be a misuse of their FCC license.

So why can’t NBC simply ignore the focus groups that state that their target audience for Olympic coverage is women, age 25-64, who want to see “pretty things” on their TV? Why can’t they assume that the average viewer will understand a new sport if given the opportunity to watch it, warts and all, seeing a lot of the field and learning to spot good moves from bad? Why can’t they flex the muscle of their five TV networks and spread out the coverage, offering simultaneous and full coverage of as many events as possible?

That was the promise of NBC when they first took over broadcasting of the Olympics with the 1992 Summer Olympic Games and the “Triplecast,” a pay-per-view set of three cable channels that showed simultaneous event coverage. And in the 1980s, the previous tenders of the Olympic flame on TV – ABC and CBS – showed more coverage of more events, without breaking to-and-fro between events, teaching people about the sports as the broadcast went along.

That’s how I became hooked on alpine ski racing: watching the 1984 Winter Olympic Games from Sarajevo, where brash Bill Johnson showed up ski racing’s Austrian royalty to win the downhill, and the Mahre twins raced to gold and silver in their final international competition. It was compelling without resorting to “sob story” tactics, while showing all of the top racers and not just the cherry-picked Americans. It made me say “I want to do that!”

And I can’t see this current means of presentation of one of the most compelling competitions around being as compelling to tomorrow’s athletes. Once NBC took the reins, the slice-and-dice methods of Dick Ebersol took over, and the quality of the broadcast went down as a result.

What NBC fails to realize is that great competition is compelling in and of itself. Remember Picabo Street? She was charismatic and compelling on her own, without the help of an “After School Special” biography before each of her races. Same thing with Alberto Tomba, the macho Italian whose rise to fame in the 1988 Winter Games was unprecedented. And how about the “Battle of the Brians” – Orser and Boitano – from the same year? The sport drove the narrative, not the other way around.

So please, NBC: respect the viewer and serve us a multi-station buffet of Olympic choices, rather than spoon-feed us carefully repackaged tripe. You still have almost two weeks to make things better, and there are four years until Sochii (and two until London) for you to make amends. Please do.

Otherwise, you’re all but dead to me.

sick to my stomach

That a basic, seemingly inherent human and civil right – the right to equality under law – can be put up for a vote is abhorrent to me.

And that rights that have been granted by government can be taken away via referendum is doubly abhorrent.

The scary side of referenda reared its ugly head last year in California, with the passing of Proposition 8, overturning the right of same-sex couples to marry and be equal under the law and to the majority of society. Reactionist and fringe groups rallied support against equal rights, and stripped the rights of millions of Californians via a simple vote.

Human and civil rights, denied.

And it seems that the voters of Maine have done the same tonight, in the form of Proposition 1. Maine’s governor and legislature granted the right for all couples, regardless of gender, to have access to civil marriage. In the same measure, they also preserved religious freedom by not requiring churches to perform marriages that run counter to their tenets.

But on November 3, 2009, slightly over 23 29 percent of registered voters in Maine decided to strip the rights of their fellow citizens. They decided that discrimination is just fine, and that the United States Constitution is wrong, and that all men (and women) are not created equal.

It makes me angry that anybody would vote to deny rights to people simply because they don’t agree with genetics. That anybody would be so twisted with hate, fear or confusion (or a combination of all three) to declare via one of the most basic responsibilities a United States citizen has that there is an under-class of people who don’t deserve the same access to a public and legal expression of love and commitment is something that does not compute with me.

I understand that a belief in God, or in the literal word of The Bible, or in a set of morals and beliefs that denies full inclusion for all members of society is a reality, and that many people ascribe to a life molded around such a code of conduct. But when these people have such myopic views and insist on forcing these views upon all others, I have a problem.

I grew up in a theocracy, where such practices are commonplace throughout the state and local government. As an atheist, I feel most unwelcome in places that force such beliefs and practices upon me.

I believe that love is the answer, that love makes a family, and that a family is not defined by a ratio of women to men. If two people love each other, are committed to each other and are willing to legally declare their love and commitment to each other, who am I to deny them that right?

Indeed who is anybody – individual or government – to deny that right?

Society should embrace those who love each other with true commitment and responsibility. They should allow them to be married – in a civil marriage. Marriage need not be religious to be legitimate, but it needs to be marriage. A civil union, seen by many conservatives as the “equivalent” of marriage, is separate but decidedly not equal under the law or under most societal definition.

I hope that DC’s pending legislation to legalize same-sex marriage equality (with protections for religious freedom) passes into law, and that all people in DC will embrace a society where all men and women are equal under law.

But tonight, Maine just makes me sad, angry, and wishing that fear and division were a thing of the past. Indeed, I feel sick to my stomach over this.

To the voters of Maine who voted NO on Proposition 1, I send my heartfelt thanks, and urge you to continue to fight the good fight.

To those who voted for Prop 1, I hope that you open your eyes to love, equality and acceptance of all people. Because fear, bigotry, hatred and myopia will get you nowhere in this world (or, according to friends of mine who are believers, the world after this one).

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