It has been two weeks since the 2012 Olympic Games in London closed on August 12, but at least among the perpetual naysayers on social media outlets like Twitter, an even bigger talking point than Team USA’s medal count was NBC network’s apparent failings in covering it all. A loquacious lot to begin with, the Internet community was never short on criticism, using the hashtag #NBCFail to express their discontent.
One would get the impression that these Olympics wholly lacked elements that its predecessors covered. Among chief complaints was the perpetual tape-delay, which meant few events were broadcast in real-time, the overuse of ads and NBC’s choice of Ryan Seacrest to cover many of the major Olympic happenings.
But the truth is that, while many of the critiques against NBC are arguably warranted, that does not mean that the network did any better or worse for this Summer Games than it did with the Beijing and Sydney games, respectively. Time differences in the double-digits between most U.S. territories and Australia and China alone meant that NBC’s ‘tape-delay’ was a necessity for the majority of Americans to view the game’s major events.
So what changed?
If one looks at the origins and the nature of the criticism, one starts to realize where the problem originates from: the way in which we as a society absorb news and information. Though four years ago might not seem like a huge leap time-wise, one has to keep in mind the radical changes in technology that have taken place since that time. Four years ago, the iPhone 3G was just released and Twitter was still in a relative infancy with the mainstream. Speaking in broad terms, the public did not have the same expectations or entitlement in relation to getting updates on the things they cared about. Viewing the Olympics during prime time was arguably still the best option.
Not so in 2012, but NBC had genuinely made efforts to keep in stride with the changing times. The network offered live streaming of events to cable and satellite subscribers online, even archiving said footage following the conclusion of the day’s events for those who missed it. That means that if enthusiasts really did wish to watch the events at the times they actually occurred, they could quite easily do so.
This gesture alone seems to squash much of the criticism, even if NBC did fail to majorly publicize this with its prime time broadcasts.
Yet with a tumult of negative tweets coming, not only from the anonymous, but from professional critics like Time magazine’s James Poniewozik (who bashed NBC’s tape-delay) and television personalities like Glee actor Kevin McHale (who referred to NBC’s interruption of the closing ceremonies to show their new comedy, Animal Practice, as a “disgrace”), it’s easy to assume NBC out-and-out failed to win over an audience for the London games. Surely, if this many people are this vocal about how bad the coverage was, they must have ceased giving NBC the viewership the network so desired.
According to the numbers, however, the 2012 Olympics were among the most successful in recent memory. According to Forbes contributor John Clarke, the network reported an average of 31.1 million viewers during its prime-time coverage. This makes the London games the most-watched non-U.S. Summer Olympics since the 1976 Montreal games. This marks a 12 percent increase in viewership from the prior games in Beijing.
Apparently, though complaints and insults were leveled, they were leveled whilst affixed to NBC’s prime-time Olympic coverage; a tad hypocritical.
And even if one is a staunch critic of these Olympics, sticking to a level of integrity and genuinely refusing to give NBC any viewership out of principle, they may inevitably have to bite the network’s bullet. NBCUniversal has little intention of passing the baton anytime soon. The Washington Post reported on July 31 that the company had paid $4.38 billion in 2011 for broadcast rights to the Winter and Summer games through 2020.
If anything, critics will have plenty of time to think up new and creative reasons why #NBCfails.