Bookbyte Blog

North Korea faces South Korea in ping pong.

Source: Korea Herald

Airing the Olympics should be a no-brainer. It’s like having the Super Bowl. Film the game, air the game. Make sure not to show exposed breasts during your halftime show. As long as you remember these three things, you’ll get millions upon millions of viewers and no real backlash.

But NBC has decided to complicate step 2 by airing the Olympics on a tape delay for American audiences. While the world watches live, the US has to wait until the network-calculated peak viewing hours to watch their favorite sports. And when those hours come along, well, I hope you like swimming and gymnastics, because other than a tiny bit of volleyball, those are the only sports I’ve ever stumbled across just by turning on the TV.

There’s only one problem: the Internet exists. Which means people are used to getting information pretty much immediately. There’s a good reason that, even in an era of video on-demand and DVR, sports are one of the few things I make a point to watch live, whenever possible. When something real is going on, when the rest of the world is feeling the same tension you do, watching TV becomes a more social experience. That’s true even if you’re alone. Mid-game phone calls, posts, and tweets are routine, and a good way to get through tedious commercials.

This isn’t just true for sports. Well I’ve never really felt the same way about reality shows (because I don’t watch them) or pre-recorded comedy/drama shows (because those rarely feel “social” in the same way sports do), I can understand the appeal of taking the time to watch premieres live.

NBC has apparently completely lost sight of that basic appeal to the social nature of sports. And weirdly, I’m pretty sure they think they’ve done the opposite. No doubt the decision to not air things live went down like this:

NBC EXEC #1: “London is 5 hours away from the East coast, 8 hours away from the West. All the events are going to be happening while people are at work!”

NBC EXEC #2: “What if we just wait until everybody’s home from work, then air the games?”

NBC EXEC #3: “Brilliant! That way we can cherry-pick the events with huge audience potential that we already know have dramatic outcomes! Nothing but swimnastics from 5 to 11 pm!”

INTERN: “Why don’t we just air the events live during the day and then re-air the cherry-picked versions during primetime?”

NBC EXEC #1: “You’re fired.”

Rather than relying on the inherent appeal of live games, which naturally create the sort of “event” TV networks always want for their programming, NBC thought it could recreate the “event” in a more commercially viable time slot.

But, all criticism aside, the approach is bizarrely actually working. The opening ceremonies set a record-breaking 40.7 million viewers. While many are bristling at NBC’s hyping of pre-determined events, many more are willing to go along for the ride with the tightly controlled presentation. I myself have probably watched as much of the games as ever and watched a lot more of the “big” matches than I would otherwise.

Still, I miss randomly stumbling across some weird outlier game because that just happens to be on when I turn on TV.  That’s always been the greatest appeal of the Olympics for me: finding myself surprisingly engrossed by hammer throwing or race walking or badminton.

Apparently North and South Korea faced off in table tennis this past Monday. I had no idea. I would’ve loved to watch that. But by the time I found out that this match had happened, I also found out who won. That takes away a lot of the incentive to seek it out after the fact.

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