NBC’s Primetime Olympics Coverage is Not Sportscasting

30Jul12

Like millions of others, I’ve had the Olympics on quite often over the past few days and will continue to care about sports that I know little about for another 11 days. And like thousands of others, I’ve enjoyed making fun of NBC’s erratic coverage, tape-delays, ethnocentrism, weak commentary, and inexplicable employment of Ryan Seacrest using the Twitter hashtag #NBCFail. But I agree with TV critic Jaime Weinman that “NBC did not fail,” at least given its goals of attracting massive audiences to television.

My one addendum to Weinman’s analysis is that I think much of the controversy over NBC’s primetime coverage involves a genre misunderstanding of what the evening broadcasts are trying to offer. To get what NBC is doing, we need to understand that the nightly programs are not sportscasting as we typically think of it. Instead, it’s better thought of as a nightly magazine program recapping the day’s events through a combination of replays, feature stories, travelogues, interviews, and inexplicable appearances by Ryan Seacrest. A good parallel is the difference between USA Today‘s daily sports page, and the weekly Sports Illustrated magazine. NBC’s primetime Olympics show is a sports magazine, in the model of Today as a news magazine – notably, it is produced by Today‘s production team.

I’m not a fan of this approach to covering the Olympics, as I want to watch the events live and with minimal interruptions, and without the formulaic human interest features. But clearly many viewers enjoy this magazine style blending extended highlight reels with personal profiles. So if I could change anything about NBC’s coverage, I’d make this genre label more explicit, calling the primetime show Olympics Today and clearly embracing its magazine format. Then show all of the major events live on the various NBCU channels as actual sportscasts, even if they’ll be repeated in primetime. (Yes, they are streaming everything online, but I’ve had a hard time getting decent quality without major buffering lags & skips.)

And, of course, get rid of Ryan Seacrest.

UPDATE: As some excellent after-the-fact evidence for this analysis, see Joe Posnanski’s interview with NBC legend Dick Ebersol, where he highlights that the Olympics are a television event, not a sporting event.

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