Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Citius, Altius, Fortius

Have you been watching the Summer Olympics in the past couple of weeks?  We have at our house, at least some of the time.  Here are some impressions I've gained....
NBC is being vilified for doing what networks covering the Olympics have done for 50 years....that is, craft the day's highlights into a packaged television show designed to satisfy the largest audience possible.  There are a lot of people complaining in a lot of venues (most of them online) that in this age of instant information and social media and so forth that NBC has an obligation to show everything live, and then still repackage various events for prime time consumption.  Of course, those doing the complaining are the ones who probably have the opportunity to watch, say, track and field live, as it's happening.  Most everyone else whom NBC and its advertisers hope to reach are working during the core hours of the afternoon, so their strategy is still designed for people who can't watch events live.
And you CAN watch this stuff live, just online.  That only happened with these Games.
I tuned in yesterday to watch a bit while I was having lunch and saw some women's water polo (what a physically demanding sport that is!) and a little volleyball (the real thing, not the beach volleyball that's become so popular in the past couple of Games).  Fun.  Particularly since I don't really have an ongoing interest in either sport.
That brings me to another area of concern.  NBC has narrowed things down to so few sports that they'll show during prime time that one wonders if the Olympics consist only of women's gymnastics, swimming, diving, beach volleyball, and a little track and field.  That seems to be the menu most evenings, and it's compelling.  My wife, who's not a real sports fan except for Kentucky basketball, LOVES watching this stuff, giving up an hour of sleep most nights to see who won what.  So I would have to think that the key to ratings success with the Olympics is to create the human interest aspects of these athletes' stories to interest women who ordinarily could care less about sports.
This technique was pioneered by ABC back in the '70's ("up close and personal--the ABC way") and NBC has continued that practice.  Unfortunately, though, it backfires occasionally.  I almost find myself rooting AGAINST someone that NBC has so thoroughly canonized (like swimmer Ryan Lochte) and cheering instead for unknowns or surprisingly great competitors.  In the men's swimming events, it was assumed that Lochte would be the dominant force for the American team.  No, once again, and for the last time, it was Michael Phelps, who had begun to appear that his best days were behind him.  NBC pivoted quickly with their emphasis, but it was obvious.
The American women's swim team was the great revelation of these games.  Mostly young women, all quite talented and most gracious whether in victory or defeat.  They embody all of the best qualities of Olympic athletes.
My comments wouldn't be complete without a couple of thoughts on the women's gymnastics.  Of course NBC emphasizes the American team over all others, since Americans are their audience.  But do they have to make this into some kind of televised catfight between teenagers, that this has devolved into?  It doesn't help that one or two are lionized above the others, and when one of the others is recognized she's simply added to the select group upon whom the coverage concentrates.
And frankly, if I hear one more word from Tim Daggett or Elfie Schlagel about what good sports these girls are, I may have an adverse reaction.  Big time gymnastics is a real pressure cooker, from all appearances, and every one of these girls who reach this stage realize that there are literally millions of dollars in endorsements and appearance fees up for grabs, at least for the American athletes.  Tough environment, made tougher by a fawning and critical media.
So enjoy the rest of the Games....

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