Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Sochi Olympics: In Retrospect

NBC, the weakest of the four major networks, just finished their 17 day coverage of one of the few events that attempts to keep peace on earth, even if for a few days. This is our heritage from the ancient Greeks, possibly one of the most contentious peoples in history. But even they put aside their differences and wars for a few days of sport and celebration. However, the Ukraine must not have gotten the memo and they were a hop, skip and jump away from the action!

The modern Olympics began again at the end of the 19th Century, an event many felt was needed for man to connect again after a violent and contentious century.  Little did they know that the 19th Century was just a prelude to the 20th. Again the nations of the earth agreed to meet with their best athletes every four years echoing the ancient Greeks. However, the big difference, in an attempt to connect all the peoples of the earth, the venue rotated from place to place.

What we saw was both a meeting of the best athletes those countries attending had to offer and one of the biggest media hypes imaginable. Like everything else in our lives today it is hard to separate the event from the spin.

Right off the bat, everyone was more concerned about what was wrong with Bob Costas. His pink eye episode garnered more reports and speculation than other news for a day or two. While the opening ceremony was covered in prime time, starting at 7 p.m., it quickly degenerated into 8 p.m., more and more hype and bios and finally around 9 p.m. they started to show events that had already happened 12 hours before. Finally, around 10 pm I went to bed missing the majority of events. I heard it went on another two hours.

This happened day after day...17 days in fact. The fact I was recovering from surgery gave me the opportunity to watch events during the day because I soon discovered that not much of those events were shown in prime time. NBC proudly announced that if you wanted to see things, you could start to watch at 3 a.m. I don't know about you but even I wasn't going to get up that early to watch the Olympics. I was counting on NBC to show the best events during the evening when the majority of viewers would be home. But no, there was the spoiler alerts during the World News at 6:30 p.m. and then nothing was started on Prime Time until 8 p.m., IF then. There was no guarantee this would happen because they had to do their bios and hype American athletes that frequently didn't live up to their spin. I'm not blaming the athletes. There were just others, people we never heard of, who were better. That didn't stop NBC. So, if you wanted to see figure skating, one of the most popular events, you had to wait until 10 or 11 at night...this for an event that had been done 12 hours before (here in California).

A few days into the Olympics the newspapers started reporting that NBC viewership was down. It didn't take long for anyone to say or think is it any wonder? Their coverage was so poor. They spent so much time on everything BUT events. I mean, I could see more on my iPad than I could on TV. The other big indicator was that no one talked about it. I did get out to see friends, eat, etc. The one missing factor? No one talked about the Olympics nor was much shown on sport bar TVs.

It's a shame. There were exciting events, surprising victories, and amazing stories. What we got were tallies of medals, bios that ranked right up there with soap opera and finally piss poor coverage. Its not that NBC didn't spend a fortune both in securing the games from the Olympic Committee and mounting an impressive video coverage with a dedicated staff, it was how all that money and coverage was used. In final judgment, not very well.

Russia may not be my favorite nation and probably when all is said and done is a second tier nation, but for Costas to badger the IOC president in prime time Saturday night about whether nations America doesn't agree with should be given the Olympics, is hubris greater than any ancient Roman.
Is Putin any worse than Hitler? As far as I know there are no death camps or gas chambers. Was the debacle in Greece any worse than what everyone fears will happen in Brazil?

The Olympic spirit was gone this year. It was a chase for medals, the attendant endorsements, in some cases tacky ads seen ad nauseam, bios that were needed before or better yet AFTER the games with evenings filled with what most had missed during the day. Brainless Hollywood gossip could have been jettisoned for 17 days so coverage started at 7 p.m. if not earlier. If the populace was so starved for Hollywood gossip there was CBS or TMZ. That crowd wasn't going to watch the Olympics anyway.  It's too bad NBC couldn't themselves rise above chatter and present a world class sporting event.  It can be done. Any country in Europe could have shown them the way.

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