The Games of the XXXI Summer Olympiad are now complete and on Monday everyone was critiquing NBC’s production of the Games. Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch and Awful Announcing’s Ken Fang both had excellent reviews of NBC’s coveage, and I encourage everyone to read their fine works. Criticizing NBC’s coverage of the Olympic Games is a biennial tradition and rather then piling on, I thought I would provide 10 ways the Peacock Network could improve their coverage.
- LOVE IT LIVE! Obviously the biggest complaint for the last few Olympiads has been NBC tape delaying and “packaging” for primetime. The next 3 Olympics are in far east Asia (PyeongChang 2018, Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022) so that should fit nicely into NBC’s packaging plans. It was interesting to note in the 2016 Rio Games, NBC essentially gave live “Women’s Gymnastics” to European TV in exchange for Live Swimming and Track much to the dismay of the swimming community. One would think that NBC would want their most popular sport to air live in primetime on the east coast, but it was obvious NBC wanted to tape the event, so it would give them the ability to air Women’s Gymnastics in the 8pm hour and then come back to WGYM for the conclusion after 10pm. Live Swimming and Track usually occupied the 9pm hour. NBC did an excellent job streaming all of the events and deserves praise for it, but they missed an excellent opportunity to boost the ratings for the 6 cable networks covering the games particularly NBC Sports Network. NBCSN should be the main Olympic cable network going forward, imagine the ratings not to mention the ad revenue, NBCSN would have generated if the WGYM and MGYM competitions would have aired live on NBCSN in the afternoon and then still could have been re-packaged for NBC primetime. There is a 13 hour time difference between New York and PyeongChang/Tokyo and if as expected NBC repeats the same formula as they did in Beijing, they will try and move the Alpine Skiing and Swimming events to start at 10am local time so they can air live in primetime on the east coast. Most of the events in the next 2 Games will take place between 12am-12pm et so why not air EVERYTHING live overnight on one of your cable networks so the hard core fans don’t have to watch the action on their phones and laptops. It will boost the viewership for all their cable channels, and probably still won’t damage their primetime numbers. Bottom line NBC is losing millions of dollars in ad revenue by sticking to the archaic notion of saving these events for primetime.
- AIR THE MARQUEE EVENTS LIVE ON THE TODAY SHOW! Much has been made of NBC CMO’s John Miller patronizing comments about female viewership. If NBC truly believes that Olympic viewers will watch the Games regardless if they know the results or not, then they should air their marquee events (figure skating and gymnastics) LIVE during the “Today” show’s 4 hour window. For decades “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America” have been fighting it out for morning show supremacy, why not use the Games to crush GMA for 2 weeks plus the ad revenue would be off the charts. If as John Miller says “More women watch the games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and miniseries wrapped into one.” then why not beat GMA, make more money, appease the sports fans who want to watch it live, and then package it nicely for the primetime audience!
- CONVINCE THE IOC TO SPLIT UP TRACK & FIELD! Former NBC track analyst Dwight Stones was spot on about NBC’s woeful coverage of the Field events in Rio. It was disgraceful and the viewers missed out on a lot of terrific performances. Imagine how great it would have been to watch Pole Vaulter Sam Kendrick’s patriotic moment live on NBC! Instead it went viral after the fact and did not receive nearly the coverage that moment deserved. NBC should ask the IOC to split up Track & Field and move the Field events to week 1 of the Games and in a smaller venue. Field events could be held in a smaller 20-25k soccer venue without a track to bring the audience closer to the action. Imagine the electric environment a smaller venue would provide for these events, and putting them week 1 would give the Field events more exposure and prestige. Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell had an interesting discussion on Bill’s latest podcast, they proposed putting bleachers on the infield so runners could run in a more dynamic environment with fans on both sides of the track. Moving Field events to a track less venue could make that happen, and possibly breathe some life into a sport that has completely fallen off the sports radar in recent years.
- DUMP SEACREST, BRING IN FALLON! It’s no secret NBC Olympics late night was a colossal failure in Rio. The show could not decide if it was a talk show or an outlet for airing additional sporting events and basically turned nto a hot mess. Ryan Seacrest looked out of place in Rio and his interviews were excrutiatingly painful, you could tell the athletes were not excited appearing with Mr. Seacrest. The late night show also created ZERO viral moments that are so important to attracting the younger demographic which the Olympics desperately needs. For the life of me, I can not figure out why NBC did not bring “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” to Rio. Fallon is one of NBC’s most valuable properties, why would you not use him when you have your largest audience?!? Imagine the games Jimmy could have played with the athletes and the crowds that would have gathered on Copacabana Beach to hear the Roots do their thing. It would have created serious buzz and would have been “Must see TV”. Hopefully NBC will not make the same mistake in the future.
- CREATE A NIGHTLY RECAP SHOW ON NBCSN! As I stated earlier NBC is underutilizing NBCSN during the Olympics. Awful Announcing Ken Fang’s praised Telemundo’s Late Night show that gave viewers a full recap of that day’s Olympic events. Why can’t NBC create that same type of program for NBCSN?!? The United States won 121 medals in Rio and I maybe saw half of them. We desperately need a 60 minute “SportsCenter”-type highlight show that would show us everything we missed that day, and also call attention to the less popular sports that have zero chance of airing on the primetime telecast. It can also provide an outlet for excellent video essays like this one on Olympic parents.
- BRING JIMMY ROBERTS BACK TO PRIMETIME! One of the most perplexing decisions NBC made was moving Jimmy Roberts’ “Olympic Moments” to the daytime show. Mr. Roberts is an excellent storyteller and his “Moments” series are always an enjoyable watch. The best feature I watched in Rio was Mr. Roberts’ profile of Dindin the penguin. It deserved the primetime stage and so does Jimmy!
- MORE FEHERTY! In September 2015, NBC scored a huge coup when they unexpectedly signed David Feherty away from CBS. His “Feherty” interview show on the Golf Channel is a must watch. and he turned out to be a fantastic addition to the Olympic broadcast crew Unfortunatley he was underutilized, Mr. Feherty’s one primetime appearance was a fantastic essay on the importance of the Olympic Games. It was extremely poignant and left you wanting more.
- GET THE ANNOUNCERS OUT OF STAMFORD, CT! NBC announcers voiced 2o of the 32 sports not live in Rio but in Stamford, Ct. This is not a good thing. I understand the cost savings but it severely hurt the overall product. Analysts were constantly waiting for replays to explain what was happening because they could not see it, and it led to many awkward moments during a broadcast. During the Gold Medal Men’s Soccer match between Brazil vs Germany, Arlo White called play by play on site in Rio while analyst Kyle Martino was in Stamford. Arlo and Kyle still provided a fine broadcast but it could have been so much better if Kyle could see the whole pitch. Broadcast technology is rapidly improving and some sports networks are already using the internet which would allow the producer/director and entire event crew to stay in Stamford and permit the on-air talent to broadcast the event from site. Hopefully NBC will invest in some form of that technology for 2018.
- SHOW MORE VARIETY! The “Olympic Gold Zone” channel modeled after the “NFL Red Zone” was a fantastic addition to the Rio coverage as they bounced from event to event, but during primetime coverage all the viewers basically saw was WGYM, Swimming, Track, Beach Volleyball and Diving. NBC needs to show more sports during the primetime hour, especially events where Americans are doing well….instead of Track and Swimming preliminary heats and semi-finals, NBC could have shown the USA Women’s Varsity 8 gold medal winning rowing race, Helen Maroulis’ stunning judo upset of three-time champ Saori Yashida, Claressa Shields defending her gold in boxing, the list goes on and on of events that were primetime worthy. Instead we just saw a 15 second recap of these gold medal winning feats and then went right back to more non-medal heats in the pool or track. One thing about Americans, they will watch if the USA take homes the Gold! A perfect example of NBC’s lack of variety occured during their “Rio Gold” recap show that aired right before the Closing Ceremony. During the 60 minute program, Bob Costas and Al Michaels tossed to glossy recaps of Women’s Gymnastics, Swimming, Track & Field with additional homages to Kerri Walsh-Jennings, Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps. I was shocked those were the only sports they covered, I kept waiting for a montage of other USA gold medal winners that never arrived! They say “variety is the spice of life” and NBC definitely needs to embrace that thinking for future Games.
- BRING BACK THE ODE TO JOY! Ken Fang had a good read on the music NBC utilizes for the Games, but one thing he failed to mention is the closing music NBC uses for the end of the Games. As a kid growing up, I would always stay up to watch the end of the Closing Ceremony so I could see Jim McKay toss to the “Ode to Joy” closing montage. It was “One Shining Moment” before “One Shining Moment” and was the perfect way to wrap up the Games. NBC kept the “Ode to Joy” tradition going in 1992 and 1996 but then stopped it for some inexplicable reason. For the last few Olympiads, NBC has chosen to end their coverage with closing credits using the score from “Remember the Titans”. It’s a fine piece of music but it just doesn’t carry the same weight and drama as the “Ode to Joy”. I became very excited when NBC decided to run closing credits on Saturday night instead of after the Closing Ceremony. NBC once again used the “Titans” score for the credits and it was well done as usual, but it got me pumped to see what they would do for Sunday night. I was extremely disappointed with the final result. NBC used the “Titans” music again for the second night in a row and while it was also well executed but is pales in comparison to the closing montages done by the BBC, StarSports and especially CBC’s who used “Ahead by a Century” by “The Tragically Hip” on the night of their last ever concert. I’m a traditionalist, I would love to see NBC go back to the “Ode” but if not they definitely need to come up with something fresh and new.
Overall, the technical innovations were off the charts, especially the pictures from the pool sky cam. NBC also did an awesome job with the reaction shots of parents and teammates. The Peacock Network did plenty of great things in Rio, but the primetime broadcast felt stale and late night was a disaster. NBC can blame the millenials all they want for the decline in ratings, but you need to give them a product worth watching and a shake up in the format should be on the table.
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