After watching just over two weeks of the 2010 Winter Olympics on NBC Sports, it is nice to get back to some sense of normalcy. It is also good to take a couple of days to reflect on the Vancouver Games and think about what did and did not happen via our gateway to the games: NBC Sports. And while there were a few head scratching moments during their coverage and things NBC could have done better, a lot of criticism thrown their way was not warranted.
For this viewer, the painful moments came during the opening and closing ceremonies. Granted, as one person pointed out to me via Twitter, it is very difficult to produce and televise a long INDOOR event like the opening ceremonies and make it riveting to viewers. Even so, listening to Matt Lauer sound like he was phoning it in by reading information about each country during the parade of nations made some viewers wish he had stayed on Herald Square after the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Every interaction between Lauer and Bob Costas seemed forced.
Compare that with the Closing Ceremonies. The chemistry between Costas and Al Michaels seemed much more natural, relaxed and enjoyable. In fact, Michaels came across as a much more affable, down to earth host. Everything was going smoothly until NBC decided to have their "2010 Heidi Incident" by sort of abruptly cutting away from the closing to their new show called "The Marriage Ref." Ending their primetime coverage this way would not have been so painful if, as many writers have pointed out, they had offered some sense of real closure to their primetime viewers.
People have complained about the West Coast not getting live coverage of events and being stuck with standard delayed coverage. Frankly, that is too bad for them because NBC had to make money by getting the maximum audiences. That means drawing the audiences to the prime time television slots. If they do not lke it, they can choose not to watch. But they did watch as West Coast ratings were very much in line with the rest of the country.
NBC also did a credible job despite huge reductions in their on-site workforce, many reportedly working at their reduced for the Olympics. But they could have done a better job at explaining the hows, whys, and rules of the different events during the coverage. Telling viewers to go find the information on their web site was a small step, but the wrong one. It needed to be offered on air to the casual viewer without forcing them to go to the web. In addition, viewers should have been given a direct link to the sport being watched as an occasional bug or lower third graphic pop. Only telling viewers to go to the main web site to get information serves one purpose and one purpose only: to artificially inflate reported web traffic figures.
Speaking of online, the NBCOlympics.com experience was great overall as once again Silverlight technology from Microsoft came through. One tech writer sharply criticized the use of Silverlight, but that is a discussion for another post.
People have their gripes, but they need to be legitimate and not based on their narrow focus of their favorite sport (e.g. hockey). They need to look at the bigger picture and the fact that the networks (in this case NBC) have to make decisions to make the money needed to (a) pay the bills for what they are delivering; and (b) make a reasonable profit for their shareholders. Otherwise, they would have no coverage at all.
Complaints, if written about publicly, need to add value. They should offer alternative solutions. This is not to say NBC, or any network, should escape unscathed. After all, there is no excuse for confusing Michael J. Fox with Terry Fox, and they could have offered an on-air apology when the former appeared during the closing ceremonies.
Time goes on, and the games go on. Whatever networks broadcast the games in years to come will surely get criticized as well. But we will watch. Yes, we will watch.