Ok, NBC. You took a lot of crap for your coverage of the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games.
Sure, you spent a ton of money producing literally thousands of hours of event coverage. Your primetime broadcasts received not only the highest ratings ever for an Olympics, but, if I'm not mistaken, collectively over the 2+ weeks, more people watched this Olympics in the United States than any other televised event in US history. The production values were, for the most part, very high, and for that your hard-working camera folks and producers should be commended.
But the shortcomings were real, and myriad, and the criticisms for the most part well-deserved.
But don't let that get you down, NBC. For better or worse, you're stuck with the Olympics through at least 2020, and we're stuck watching you until then. And, if we, the American public, have proven anything during this Olympics, it's that we will watch the Olympics -- lots of it -- and that you can make money showing it to us, even if you spend tons of it to bring us unprecedented amounts of coverage.
So, let's chalk the uneven quality of your primetime broadcasts this time to a 'trial run' of perhaps the first truly global, truly live-streamed (yet, simultaneously, tape-delayed, due in part to factors beyond your control like the rotation of the planet), truly instant, social media Olympics, give you a 'do-over' -- just like Tom Daley, perhaps you were distracted by all the bright lights and attention -- and we'll cheer you on to do much better next time.
You've got a year and a half until Sochi 2014, so there's no time to waste.
Here's a few ideas, in no particular order. This list is neither exhaustive nor authoritative, representing only my own non-expert opinions. Where applicable, I do compliment you on what you did right, and offer constructive criticism for improvements. I understand that broadcasting an Olympics is a herculean task, and I also understand that you can't please everyone all of the time. But, even so, I think you'd agree that there's room for improvement. (EXPAND THIS POST TO READ MORE)
(1) Live-streaming every event in this Olympics was a great idea. How you did it, though, was not always so great.
On TV, you showed a large variety of events live, but the choice of what was broadcast and what was not seemed rather capricious. And hopping around channels was a challenge: random channel numbers, unhelpful and often incorrect on-screen guide descriptions, and no 'ticker' or info-box on any one channel telling you what could be presently found on any other channel. Some super-obscure events were not shown live on TV, and this sort of makes sense given the limited number of channels available on which to simultaneously broadcast. But since you were able to just suddenly create an extra soccer channel and an extra basketball channel for the Olympics, why not work with cable and satellite providers to create a few more next time (given the smaller size of the Winter Olympics, this probably won't matter until 2016, and by that time, I'm sure the technology to do this will be even better)? And then some high profile events were also not shown live on TV. This, to the viewers, was a transparent and greedy attempt to hold back the most lucrative stuff for primetime. But since you show us ads, no matter the time of the day, why not do a better job attracting and measuring viewership whenever it occurs, and working with advertisers to reach us both day and night?
Heck, why not create an on-demand Olympics channel, with clear timetables showing all events, past, present, and future. Let us LIVE-STREAM present events; watch past events from the beginning while they're in progress (Time Warner Cable calls this 'START OVER'), just after they end (REPLAY), and anytime thereafter (ON DEMAND); and easily see and schedule viewing of upcoming events, all on one, easy-to-use on-demand channel?
On other platforms, you provided live-streaming of what literally seemed like dozens of events at once. This was, to your credit, pretty awesome. But viewing them was a little bit less awesome. Logging into the live viewer through my cable company was cumbersome. It worked on some platforms and browsers, but not on others (My Google TV could not use either an Android app or a web browser to stream the Olympics, even though it has a mostly full-fledged, flash-supporting web browser and runs on Android. I can't speak for Apple TV, Roku, Boxee, or Playstation users, but I imagine they encountered similar hurdles.) Most web browsers worked fine, but I'd rather not be glued to my computer screen if I can help it. And the Android app for my phone was, at least for the first week of the Olympics, very buggy (it had a bit-rate error, forcing a full reboot, every several minutes). Perhaps you rolled out some updates, or increased streaming capacity -- good for you! -- because it seemed to be a bit more cooperative by the end of the Games.
But, no matter the platform I used, you separated scores, results, stories, highlight videos, replays, tv listings, and live streams in different and confusing ways. Android, for example, had two separate apps, one for live video, and one for everything else. So it was very difficult to determine whether or not I could watch a video replay of an event I just missed, while also trying to figure out what events I could watch live right now, and on which platforms I could watch them. Switching between the apps wasted time and led to confusion. Switching amongst streams, even after just a few seconds, usually subjected me to another ad roll, further delaying my viewing. How about combining all of these features into one, streamlined app next time (you can use different tabs or pages to hide 'spoilers'), and making sure that commercial breaks, like on TV, are always separated by at least a few minutes -- and that they don't interrupt key moments of events. Make your website and apps look and function similarly, so that switching amongst them is a breeze. Let me see a split-screen with multiple streams at once, so that I can make a more informed choice while jumping around, or even watch more than one simultaneously if that's my style. Heck, since you make me login to use your streams, remember me and my favorite sports, what I'm watching right now and what I want to watch later, and let me seamlessly jump from one platform to another, resuming exactly where I left off. If I miss 2 minutes of live coverage to make a sandwich or boot up my computer, let me pause and resume watching 2 minutes shy of live -- just like on a DVR or on-demand television.
(2) I'm not an idiot. Please don't talk to me like I am. Please don't make dumb jokes about what athletes are wearing, or the names of their countries, or the horrible dictators who used to rule those places. Find smart, informed people to give event commentary, even for the non-sporting events (like the opening and closing ceremonies). Teach me something I didn't know, or just help me to better understand what's going on in front of me. If I want to see dumb jokes, I'll watch a late-night comedy program. Or the Today show. Mercifully, I didn't catch a minute of the Today show during this Olympics, but given its propensity towards fluff the rest of the year, I'm sure it struck a similar tone during the Games. Relegate the silly jokes to 7-9AM, and then again to 11:35PM or later.
(3) This one builds on the previous point. Don't be afraid to spend a few minutes explaining the rules. I think it goes without saying that most Olympic sports are hugely unpopular in the US the other 3 years and 50 weeks that they're not taking international center stage. If I'm watching volleyball, tell me the difference between a dig and a block. Better yet, SHOW me the difference. If I'm watching water polo, explain why there's a whistle being blown every other second. If I'm watching judo, or fencing, or taekwondo, or any other lightning-fast combat sport, show me how points are scored (or not scored). I won't feel demeaned, I'll feel enlightened and informed. Use helpful infographics wherever possible. And exploit the high-speed cameras and state-of-the-art production equipment at your disposal. Show me replays complete with freeze-frames and mark-ups. Show me side-by-sides, comparing one athlete's performance to another's. Yes, you did this throughout the games. But only for a few lucky events, and almost exclusively in primetime.
(4) Primetime is MY time. Unfortunately, most Americans don't get 2 weeks paid vacation to sit at home and watch the Olympics, and most employers generally frown upon sitting at your desk and live-streaming the whole thing. So, by and large, we come home and watch your primetime broadcast, hence the unbelievable ratings. Even though primetime is but a few short hours, I'd really like to get a sense of everything that happened at the Olympics that day. I'd like to feel like I could simultaneously be in 6 places at once, and get at least a brief overview of all the sports, from the hot ticket to the what-the-heck-is-that.
This means that you have to get much better at managing your time. No dilly-dallying. Less Ryan Seacrest. No 30 minute to hour-long documentaries at the beginning of your primetime broadcast, no matter how genuinely moving and compelling. Broadcast those earlier, or later, or on a different channel, or on-demand.
Be very judicious about showing prelims. Frankly, as great as the track and field and diving events are (and they are great), do we really need to see the same divers and runners doing prelims, semis, and finals? Unless you plan on showing us additional athletes during those earlier rounds, or unless something very unexpected happened, why not skip those, or at least shorten them into a fast-paced highlights reel. Especially during qualifying heats, don't show runners or swimmers hanging out by the starting line for 3 minutes. Edit those clips much, much more tightly, so we get about 15-30 seconds for you to introduce the event, and then show the event. Since most of the events go by so quickly anyway, you're going to replay them several times in slo-mo, during which time you'll go into much more detailed analysis, so we really don't need to watch athletes pacing and stretching for 3 minutes before each heat.
With the time you save, introduce us to a few more sports that you otherwise would have left out of primetime. I understand that some sports are more popular than others, but, to be honest, I feel like part of the reason for that is that you frame them that way for us. If you showed us a greater variety of events in primetime, you might find that we're interested in a greater variety of sports, and I highly doubt that your ratings will suffer for it. You already chopped up Misty and Kerri's volleyball matches, and cut dozens of nameless, faceless divers out of the diving competitions, so why not edit that stuff even a little tighter, and sneak in some wrestling, and judo, and kayaking, and fencing, and handball, and cycling, and soccer, and basketball, and stuff involving horses, or boats, or weapons, or heavy objects, and other events into primetime? Even if you just give us a 30 minute "Around the Games" feature each night, with brief highlights from the more obscure events, you could still devote the overwhelming bulk of your primetime coverage to a few high-profile sports, but leave viewers feeling like they've gotten a more complete picture of the day at the Olympics.
Yes, it's inevitable that Americans are going to want you to focus your coverage on American athletes -- especially American athletes who win medals -- but this doesn't necessarily force you to exclude losing athletes, or athletes from other countries -- as, to your credit, you sometimes did in primetime. If there's a really fantastic match between two non-US opponents or a really breathtaking performance by a little-known athlete in a poorly-understood sport from a tiny little country, find the time to show us at least a few minutes of it in primetime. Let us root for phenomenal achievement, even if it's not by an American, and especially if it's by someone not already known to the whole world.
(5) Which brings me to another related point: Profiles, features, and lead-ins. The Olympic games are filled with incredible people doing incredible things, often overcoming incredible odds to get there. It makes for a beautiful, tear-jerker narrative, and the producers at NBC do a pretty phenomenal job tugging at those heartstrings with moving athlete profiles at the beginning of many primetime events.
Keep doing these profiles. I do want to learn about the athletes, their struggles, and their triumphs. Since most Olympic athletes are nowhere near being household names, and their sports are equally obscure, without these profiles it would otherwise feel like I'm watching a bunch of strangers play an odd sport with confusing rules.
But, don't patronize me. Tell me the truth, even when the story isn't quite as fairy-tale. And, more importantly, don't let the profiles 'give away the endings.' Almost as a rule, NBC only showed profiles of athletes who went on to win an event minutes later. Show me profiles of losers. Show me profiles of people from other countries, even when they're not the fastest person in the world. Don't make this us-against-them. If you're going to humanize the 'good guys' (aka the Americans), I want to see profiles of America's fiercest competitors (aka the 'bad guys') as well.
(6) And let athletes catch their breath before you interview them. Yeah, it's cool to run them down for instant feedback on the pool deck or the race track or the field, even before they've had the chance to hug their coaches or take a shower. This is pretty neat on a live broadcast. But if you're tape-delaying it anyway, you might as well give them a few minutes to compose themselves, sit them down in a studio, and ask them some more compelling questions.
Like I said, this list is not exhaustive (in fact, as I think of things, I reserve the right to add them later). And, I understand that resources are limited, broadcast rights, tape delays, and quick editing are complicated, and Americans like our fluffy reality TV as much as anyone else.
But I know you can do better next time, and I'm sure you agree.
So, get cracking! I'll be rooting for NBC to pick itself up, dust itself off, and do much better at the next Olympics!