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Tape delayed coverage a necessary evil

August 3, 2012

The choice made by NBC to run most elite events from the 2012 London Games in primetime on tape delay has caused an uproar with just about everyone.

However, the choice that NBC has made is a necessary one based on the time difference between London and the United States. Not offering any sort of tape delay coverage would be more infuriating to American fans than showing our athletes participate in events that had been decided hours previously.

It is simple math. London is six hours ahead of the US, most US citizens are at work between 11 am and 4 pm when the vast majority of Olympic events will be taking place. Once US primetime rolls around, it is 1 am in London. This is not a good recipe for live television. Of course, sports are always better enjoyed live, rather than in a microwave.

The problem that NBC has run into is two-fold. The obvious spoiler card is in play every day of the Olympics as major events are being decided while most American sports fans are surfing the net or trolling Twitter as opposed to working. Secondly, their coverage has begun to run over events that have yet to be fully televised at times.

The most cardinal of all NBC’s sins was running the Missy Franklin Today Show promo minutes prior to her first gold medal race. In case you missed it, the promo was all about Franklin’s first gold medal and celebrating with her family. This is the same medal most were sitting down to watch her win once the commercial break ended.

Of course that is a major gaffe, but something that surely won’t be repeated. What I think has hurt NBC’s coverage is the fact that they aren’t showing many of the premier events live.

There would be no problem having Bob Costas run the same show he has each evening if there was an equal opportunity to see the same events when they actually happen. For example, Michael Phelps record-breaking swim occurred at 3:51 pm eastern time, but never saw the air on NBC. Those lucky enough to have cable and the CTV feed saw the race live, but everyone else who doesn’t live in Buffalo, with Time Warner, missed that moment.

Adding to the problem is the internet since Twitter and every sports or news site provides some sort of update in real-time. If you’re capable of avoiding any potential spoilers, then the evening broadcasts likely still have some drama to them. However, it still doesn’t excuse leaving the biggest events out of the daily broadcast schedule.

Ultimately, this comes down to ratings. NBC is in the business of drawing the most eyes to their station during primetime. That means making sure to roll out the biggest names at the games each and every night. It is completely understandable and comes with the territory of producing television at an event six hours ahead of your viewers.

Keep in mind, this isn’t Vancouver. The 2010 Winter Games were a dream for everyone involved because the time difference was negligible and marquee events were only at risk of starting at nine or ten on the East coast as opposed to the middle of the afternoon. An even better example was Beijing which was a full 12 hours ahead of the east coast.

As nice as Vancouver was for fans and the production staff, Beijing was likely a nightmare. There were likely broadcasts being filmed anywhere between four and eight in the morning in China just to catch the American primetime window.

Broadcasting the Olympics is no easy feat. NBC’s coverage is always in-depth and covers every aspect of the games. However, there will always be some sort of tape delay coverage at the games. There are too many sports and not enough air time.

The only true shortfall at these games is not the fact that NBC is offering the marquee events on a tape-delay basis. That is a necessity based on the time difference. The folly is not providing a live feed of these events. Michael Phelps set a number of records this year and barely any Americans were able to see it live.

With Sochi, Rio and Pyeongchang all coming up as hosts, there will be more time delays to deal with for viewers and producers. It will be necessary to delay marquee events in these future games, hopefully the networks have learned to at least provide the live version of the event as well.

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