Everyone likes to gripe about the tape-delayed Olympic coverage we seem to be force-fed every two years. Doesn't seem to matter whether the Games are Summer or Winter, on this continent or another, the Lords of Broadcasting persist in treating a spectacle of worldwide interest as if it's nothing more than another sitcom.
Maybe you could pull this off back when the world was less-wired than it is today. But now? When a friend at the finish line can shoot some video of the skier finishing the run and send it your way before the athlete finishes doing interviews? Absurd.
NBC's Vancouver coverage is particularly egregious because the company owns four networks (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, and USA). How much harm to its ratings would there be in showing the events live during the day and then repeating them at night? Virtually everyone either already knows the results by the time the pre-packaged prime time show comes around, or has studiously avoided media contact all day anyway.
The pathetic coverage of an event that many of us feel is the signature event of the Winter Games--the men's downhill--is a case in point. The downhill was postponed for a day because of bad weather, no doubt fouling up NBC's plans to show it on Sunday afternoon. So instead, on Monday, while Didier Defago won the closest battle in Olympic history (bronze medalist Bode Miller was only .09 second behind and 15 skiers finished within a second of the winner), NBC showed cross-country skiing. Lots of it.
If you wanted to experience the thrill of the downhill--well, you had to be alert to catch a brief chunk during the evening show. None of the drama of the actual event; just a canned replay of a couple of runs.
Meanwhile, acres of open airtime yawned on MSNBC, CNBC and USA.
Much has been made of the fact that NBC will lose money on these Winter Olympics. I have to wonder how much of that is due to the fact that the company has seen fit to pay for the rights--and then fail to show what it paid for. That's a real head-scratcher.