the shitlist: NBC’s Olympics Coverage.
I’m a total Olympics fangirl. I also have a longstanding crush on London. Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to the opening ceremonies and these events for weeks. I thought Danny Boyle did an extraordinary job with the opening ceremonies and there was a lot that I loved about it. That is going to have to be a separate post though, because right now, I need to rant. So what has NBC done wrong? Let’s count the ways (so far, since we are only a day into the games):
1. The Unprecedented “Free” Coverage aka Epic Collaboration With Greedy Cable Companies & Corporate Sponsors
I heard on a radio news program weeks ago that NBC would be making more content available online, streaming for free, than ever before! Had it been true, this would have been a huge deal for these Olympics and a growing American public that has been turning towards the internet for more and more content as powerful and greedy cable corporations continue to dominate, restrict access and content and overcharge the masses. It wasn’t.
All the hoopla, preparing people for unprecedented free content was for nothing. It’s content that can only be accessed if you are already a cable television subscriber. The BBC is offering everyone in Great Britain unrestricted access to pretty much everything online, with no ads or commercials interrupting events. The IOC has a handy youtube channel for everyone in the world to watch events for free, except for us. If you are accessing it from inside the USA, you get only clips and a redirection to NBC. And they expect us to believe that this is about advancement of technology, accessibility and spirit of global unity? NBC is owned by Comcast. You do the math.
And here’s a bonus douchbag punch very few people are talking about - you don’t just have to be a cable subscriber (because I have a basic cable package that comes with my internet), you have to pay for a certain level of package and that’s just bullshit. I logged into my online service just fine, I got to the page with the Olympic events. I clicked on one and an “I’m sorry” message popped up, immediately followed by an ad trying to get me to immediately pay for an upgrade. Quelle Suprise.
We know it’s all about the money, NBC. I’m just so tired of corporations throttling everything that happens in our culture.
Moving along to their opening ceremonies gaffs… in which NBC goes for gold as if “pissing on us and telling us it’s raining” is a brand new sport…
2. No live broadcast.
Again, we understand it’s all about the money, so a prime-time broadcast was necessary to please advertisers. It didn’t have to be the only broadcast. Showing it live and then rebroadcasting was not a ridiculous option. Neither is live-streaming it online. This was their statement:
“We are live streaming every sporting event, all 32 sports and 302 medals. It was never our intent to live stream the Opening Ceremony or Closing Ceremony. They are complex entertainment spectacles that do not translate well online because they require context, which our award-winning production team will provide for the large prime-time audiences that gather together to watch them.
We will be providing clips and highlights of each ceremony online so viewers know what to look forward to in primetime on NBC.”
Fuck. This. Noise. Something is lost when an event, even a “complex entertainment spectacle” that is designed to be a massive global event, is tape-delayed. It loses the surprises, the opportunities for genuine reaction and shared experience. It loses the ability for me to log on twitter and connect with everyone conversing about it. Just no. Just unacceptable.
This experience was cheapened by NBC making the profit-maximizing decision. One that also allowed…
3. Chopping the Opening Ceremonies to Bits
I had read tweets that tipped me off last night as I was trying to enjoy Danny Boyle’s vision (more on that later), that we were watching a highly edited version. It was only today when I was able to rewatch it, this time on BBC One, that I realized just how much we truly missed.
We frequently noticed some choppy camera work and we thought it was just wonky, no it was actually, literally choppy. NBC frequently cut-away from moments of music, crowd-reaction and dance sequences. They showed none of the applause, bows and teary-eyed volunteer performers that I found really emotionally satisfying and compelling after each segment, opting to abruptly end them. They cut to commercial in the middle of several parts and did not return to the same place to continue.
So disappointing, but this is editing and a certain amount was expected. What wasn’t expected, however, was blatantly cutting out entire portions for no good reason. Most egregious among them, a really incredible memorial tribute to victims of terrorism. You can see it here on Deadspin. What we saw instead was Ryan Seacrest’s aggressively boring interview with Michael Phelps. To be fair, even if it was riveting, it had no place being in the middle of the effing opening ceremonies.
Less glaring than a terrorism memorial, but they also omitted a really cool Sex Pistols bit. I can’t find a decent video of it, but it was part of the montage of pop music, immediately after the awesome Queen part, they paid tribute to punk and it was excellent.
4. Offensively Terrible Commentary
It was actually just offensive and embarrassing how awful the commentary by Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera was. Painful. First off, it was way too much. There was no tasteful introduction tempered with allowing us to observer quietly and hear the music for extended periods. Nope. Constant. Distracting. Chatter.
Clearly poorly “scripted” - one of the justifications for the tape delay was needing to script it so that Americans audiences would understand the complexity - and it was obvious that they were directed to narrate as if we were were all five years old and watching the Macy’s Parade.
I also don’t know how much of their delivery was scripted or ad-libbed, but they sounded uninformed and ignorant themselves. During Danny Boyle’s tribute to British Pop Culture, the Digital Age and Youth, they harped - literally repeatedly harped on teenagers being “a parent’s worst nightmare”. Oh those kids and their gadgets, har har har! Way to miss the point, assholes.
To add insult to injury, that segment ended with Sir Tim Berners-Lee there in person, tweeting his iconic ideal (the words lighting up in the crowd around the arena) “This is For Everyone.” And Meredith Viera says “If you don’t know who Berners-Lee is, don’t worry…neither do we”. That kind of statement with a laughing tone doesn’t just say “I’m uninformed.” which is embarrassing enough for a national news anchor, it says “Don’t Know? Don’t Care?”.
Why should we… it’s not like the creator of the world wide web is an integral part of American culture too, right? Ugh. It’s bad enough we don’t give a shit about other countries, but can we at least agree that it’s fucking shameful to ignore science and technology and refuse to learn our own history?
The Parade of Nations was a shitshow involving awkward and sometimes inappropriate commentary about war, scandals and politics interjected when they were supposed to be honoring the athletes. And then when there was important and appropriate moments to provide more information - for example discussing the countries that sent women this year for the first time, making this the first Olympics with women from all nations, they were flippant and dusted over it. They didn’t even show the Saudi Arabian women - which is a huge deal.
5. Honoring Danny Boyle’s creative vision with a brief interview… or not… How about that Queen?
This killed me. I was really excited to get to hear Danny Boyle say a few words about his show. Throughout this process, his emphasis was on the thousands of British volunteer performers and participants who made this possible. He was very clear to include the construction workers who build the stadium at an integral moment in the show. It’s obvious his vision was about so much more than pagentry. So what did our American Commentator ask about first? Working with the Queen of course. Fine, fine… whatever, Americans know who the Queen is… moving along. Oh WAIT. There was no moving along. In fact, she rudely interrupted him to redirect him BACK to the queen. For those of you who missed it, here is a recap of what happened (more or less):
Meredith: And now we get to talk to Danny Boyle! Danny, out of this entire really beautiful and creative display, the big moment, the money shot* was obviously James Bond and the Queen! Tell us what it was like working with the Queen!!! How did you get her to agree to this? What was it like? What was it like? What was it like? Queen Queen Queen Queen Queen?
Danny Boyle: Well, you know, it was all arranged through other people, so I didn’t actual have to ask her directly, but the working part was fun. She’s really sharp, takes direction well. HOWEVER, let me talk for a minute about all our volunteers and I specifically also wanted to highlight one of the most important parts of this show were the people who built this arena—-
Meredith: No but really, Danny, focus - Queen! Queen! Queen! She is known for her sense of humor! Queen blah blah blah Queen!
Danny Boyle: ((Looks at the camera like “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, America.”))
And that was it. I’m only barely exaggerating. Her rudeness was beyond.
*Oh and I didn’t make that part up, she actually used the phrase “money shot” in reference to James Bond and the Queen.
Stay classy, NBC.