Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How NBC, Twitter, and the Olympics Do An Awesome Job Of Proving How I'm Always Right

Well, it's Olympics time, and so the media coverage will saturate our national--nay, world--discourse for about two weeks or so. In addition to the normal news about the Olympics, there's always some sort of news about the Olympics, and this year's games are no different. However, most of the news generally point to how times have changed, and how people who haven't been paying attention need to.

The Olympics:  I'm not a fan of the Olympics. Nothing wrong with it, I guess; under normal circumstances I'm always in the mood for some heartening jingoism and cutthroat competition, so combining the two in a literal worldwide spectacle you would think would be my cup of tea. And yet it isn't. Mostly because I don't really care about any of the sports--or competitions, really, since most aren't team-based competitive sports. I watched the hockey team last time. But basketball is pretty useless--we all know who's going to win--and while I don't care for it I can see why people watch things like gymnastics or ice staking. Even ones I think I'm going to like, such as water polo, end up being boring. I think it's mostly because we don't really recognize any of the people (the bane of being amateurs--sorry, "amateurs") except for the ones that NBC force-feeds us into liking by showing tear-jerking profiles of right before the competition (and then shove a camera in their face when they lose). Aside from previous winners I don't know the names, and we won't know all but a handful afterwards, so I don't have any connection to who wins or loses outside of rank nationalism. There has to be a better setup.

Twitter and Social Media: While it certainly was a presence in Vancouver and even Beijing, social media has really caught the Olympics in the crossfire this year. It's probably more pronounced due to the time zone; in Canada, it was roughly the same as the United States, and Beijing was so far off of Eastern time no one really expected live feeds. This year, however, people are tweeting about the games as they happen, but the games (or, rather, the highlights) themselves aren't being broadcast here in the US until five hours later. So anyone who has access to social media has the outcome spoiled--and without access to watching it any other way (see below) there's no way to avoid it without avoiding social media altogether. This meshing of old media and new is not producing a particularly popular outcome, even though combining the two would be the perfect content model for such a large event. There will have to be some way to integrate the two in order for future Olympics to be more successful--although, again, see below.

NBC: NBC owns the coverage of the Olympics for the United States, and they've received a significant amount of  negative press concerning how they've handled the coverage. Some of it is, indeed, valid--they handled skipping the 7/7 tribute sloppily even if they were in the right (supposedly they weren't told it was a memorial tribute, and given the esoteric nature of the opening ceremonies it wasn't exactly blatantly evident) and they've been heavy-handed about dealing with detractors (see Adams, Guy). It's even spawned a hashtag trend--#nbcfail.  However, it's become evident that the old media model (one broadcaster making all the decisions about how to air everything) won't work, even though the old media model is the only one who has the resources to produce the Olympics in the first place. People who think that somehow the networks are dinosaurs in the business world don't know what they are talking about--there's no way Facebook or Yahoo could have produced anywhere near the amount of content that NBC has. Still, NBC's inexplicable tight leash--they have like 20 stations and they can't air the games live on any of them?--is frustrating people. So while there is room for improvement--finding a decent compromise between tape-delay and live feeds, and making a more spoiler-free presence on the Internet--there's one overriding fact that detractors are willfully forgetting: the ratings so far have far exceeded any previous Olympics. And that's really all the matters.

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