Sunday marks the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics, and while the games themselves have run pretty smoothly (besides being overshadowed by the Ryan Lochte scandal), television ratings haven’t been near as successful. Overall, ratings for NBC’s coverage have dropped by 17%, with a 25% decrease in the ages 18-49 demographic. While part of this deduction in TV viewership has been replaced with online streaming, coverage of the Olympics has disappointed in some areas. Here are some of the major issues I’ve noticed, which NBC would be smart to address before the upcoming 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang and 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.
The biggest night for any Olympics is the opening ceremony. Intended to display both national pride for the host country and the Olympic spirit of global unity, the opening ceremony is composed of a performance followed by the Parade of Nations. Rio’s ceremony concentrated on displaying Brazil’s rich history and culture, including segments focused on the species diversity of the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s indigenous people, and Portuguese colonization before a shift towards climate change awareness. However, the show wasn’t near as captivating as it should have been, mostly due to an absurd amount of commercials.
During the opening ceremony, it seemed painfully obvious to the average viewer that NBC cared more about advertising revenue than accurately depicting what was happening in Maracanã Stadium. Honestly, it felt like almost more time was spent showing commercials than the production. For starters, the way the ceremony was broadcasted was only possible because NBC used a one-hour delay rather than showing everything live. Using a delay might make sense for Pyeongchang 2018, for example, because the city is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. (Even then, I’d like it to be streamed live). However, for just a one hour difference, it makes hardly any sense to use a delay if not for NBC to determine which parts were “important” enough to show their audience. The opening ceremony should be shown with very limited commercials. We deserve to see the whole thing. And while we’re at it, let’s not talk over the ceremony or the Parade of Nations with pointless commentary, okay?
Another issue I have with the Olympics, as unpatriotic as it may sound on the surface, is that I think we focus too much on American athletes. The Olympics is a global event, featuring athletes from over 200 nations. However, instead of discussing the backgrounds of international competitors, most coverage is centered around Team USA. While the United States does have a strong lead in the medal count and obviously many American athletes are fan-favorites, often I found myself wishing I knew more about other Olympians, especially since I learned the backgrounds of much of Team USA during the Olympic trials.
I actually have a separate article coming out soon about questions I had regarding individual Olympic sports. However, one issue was so huge that it brings up a problem with Olympic coverage as a whole. One of the most popular sports in the Summer Olympics is typically women’s gymnastics, and Rio has continued the trend, as the world became captivated by the “Final Five” from the US. Women’s gymnastics was a mainstay of NBC’s primetime coverage for the first half of the games. However, out of the sports usually shown during primetime, women’s gymnastics is unique in that the competitions took place during the daytime. This leads to a major problem: spoilers.
Multiple times I accidently read the day’s results before primetime coverage aired. I never searched anything related to gymnastics, however (and this isn’t NBC’s fault) major news outlets including ESPN and Yahoo! featured results on the homepages immediately following real-time conclusions of the events. It simply shouldn’t be so easy to be spoiled, and these websites providing breaking news should wait until the events are shown by NBC or warn for spoilers in their headlines rather than explicitly reveal the results. In a sport everyone is watching, it’s a shame many people have the suspense taken away from them.
Although I don’t blame NBC, they have some work to do as well. NBC provided thousands of hours of online live coverage for a multitude of sports, including gymnastics. However, I never really knew what events were being streamed, which limited how much I watched. During primetime coverage, NBC should take a minute every hour to show a list of events being broadcast the following day along with times to tune-in. This would make the average person much more informed and boost online viewership.
Lastly, I simply cannot believe how long it takes for the finish times for track events to be displayed on-screen. Once a race finishes, the camera typically cuts to the winner, and follows them for a while as they catch their breath. If it’s a final, they’ll then show the gold medalist picking up their countries flag, show a few replays of the end of the race, show the second place finisher, interview the winner, and maybe watch the family of the gold medalist react to the race’s conclusion. That’s great and all, but when can I see the race results? It shouldn’t take five minutes to show the finishing times for a 10-second race! Sometimes you can’t even tell who took third place, and are forced to wait through coverage that could easily be displayed just after or even simultaneously with each runner’s time. This is often a problem with swimming as well, but at least at the end of a swim, the top three finishers are immediately shown.
Ultimately, has NBC’s coverage of the Olympics been as poor as many have described? Not really. We still have access to watch most everything, with strong, informative commentary. However, with exclusive rights to the Olympics through 2032, NBC must do everything in their power to create an entertaining viewing experience, or risk diminishing interest in Earth’s biggest celebration of sport.