The Weekly: NBC’s 2012 Olympics Coverage Was the Best Ever. No, Really.

The world came together in London for a few glorious weeks of sporting achievement this summer.  Literally billions of people the world over watched and cheered on both their home nation’s best and global stars like Usain Bolt who transcend mere nationality with their excellence.  All of this glory and…Americans were left outraged.

The National Broadcasting Corporation paid $2.2 billion to secure the exclusive broadcast rights for the 2010 Winter Olympics and 2012 Summer Olympics in the United States.  Last year, NBC signed a blockbuster extension worth $4.38 billion, securing the rights to each Olympiad through 2020.  So, while we may not yet know where the 2018 or 2020 Olympics will even be held, we know that a small peacock will be sitting in one of the screen’s corners for the duration.

Delayed coverage has been a hallmark of Olympic television since their beginning.  Even the Atlanta and Salt Lake games, taking place within the US and therefore not subject to time zone inconveniences, often were delayed to maximize viewership – and therefore advertising revenue – during primetime.  Whereas Beijing was 12 hours ahead of the US east coast, placing the games literally half a world away in 2008, London is a mere five hours ahead.  Games that started as late as 10PM in London could be comfortably viewed at 5PM on the east coast, or over a late lunch in Los Angeles, with a wide swath of spectacle pleasantly taking place from when Americans woke up in the morning until they were ready to settle down for the night.

Some grousing could be heard during the 2008 and even 2004 games regarding delayed viewing, but neither Olympiad came close to creating the same firestorm of discontent seen with coverage of the 2012 games.  Of course, NBC did nothing to help themselves, often spoiling results with a promo advertising an interview with a gold medal winner the next morning before the event had even been televised.

NBC also made tremendously bone-headed decisions in its editing of the opening and closing ceremonies of the games.  In its coverage of the opening ceremonies, NBC inexplicably cut out a tribute to the victims of the 7/7 Underground bombings that took place just a few weeks after London was first awarded these games.  Far from an incident known only to the British public, the 7/7 bombings captured global sympathy and were the last successful attack by Al Qaeda on Western soil.  NBC chose to show an interview of Michael Phelps by Ryan Seacrest instead.

In the closing ceremonies, NBC cut out performances by The Who, George Michael and other British artists with global appeal in favor of cutting to the pilot episode of a new comedy certain to be cancelled by Thanksgiving.  That it did so at 10:58PM ET allowed NBC to count the show as primetime viewing, declare it a success, misrepresent the show’s popularity to viewers and gouge advertisers when it airs in its regularly scheduled time-slot.

Though these were poor, slimy decisions, they’re the type that would have slipped by largely unnoticed outside of the sports and entertainment press in previous years. What led viewers to display such anger this year if NBC was simply up to its old tricks?

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