NBC’s Rio time de­lay shows dis­con­nect with Olympics view­ers

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - Chen Weihua Con­tact the writer at chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com.

When friends in China posted WeChat pho­tos and video clips of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games open­ing cer­e­mony on Fri­day evening, those liv­ing in the United States and tun­ing to NBC were still ea­gerly wait­ing.

I was one of the peo­ple wait­ing, but I was also on the phone for a while with a friend in Bei­jing. As he mar­veled at the mo­ment fash­ion model Gisele Bund­chen made her cat­walk across Mara­cana Sta­dium, I lit­er­ally said, “We are not there yet.”

NBC, the only US broad­caster of the event, had cho­sen to use a time de­lay in the so-called “live” broad­cast so the open­ing cer­e­mony could air dur­ing prime time on both the east and west coast. That meant the East Coast was de­layed for one hour while the West Coast was de­layed for four hours — a broad­cast that is ques­tion­ably “live”.

NBC’s ex­cuse, as re­ported by the US news me­dia — that its team needed time to edit the cer­e­mony and put it into con­text for view­ers in the US — clearly does not hold wa­ter, be­cause so many coun­tries, in­clud­ing China, aired the event live, with­out any de­lays.

NBC’s state­ment that “it’s not a sports com­pe­ti­tion” and “prime­time is still when the most peo­ple are avail­able to watch” showed a deep dis­con­nect be­tween the sta­tion and view­ers’ ex­pec­ta­tions.

The de­lay seemed to be only half of the prob­lem. The fre­quent in­ter­rup­tions for com­mer­cials an­gered many watch­ing on NBC. One of my WeChat friends in Wash­ing­ton, a Chi­nese na­tional, was the first to com­ment: “The splen­did Olympic open­ing cer­e­mony was in­serted into a bom­bard­ment of com­mer­cials.”

An­other Chi­nese friend, also in Wash­ing­ton, who was watch­ing the live broad­cast on China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion (CCTV), posted on WeChat, “I am thrilled with the Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of China. Thanks to CCTV, I don’t have to watch a de­layed broad­cast like those watch­ing NBC.”

“It was an evening of TV com­mer­cials,” sighed an­other Wash­ing­ton-based Chi­nese on WeChat about the NBC broad­cast.

Such crit­i­cism of NBC was also seen in a BBC re­port and many other news re­ports that fol­lowed.

“Why is the rest of the world watch­ing the open­ing cer­e­mony live while I’m read­ing up­dates on Twit­ter, I’ll just stream it, non­com­mer­cial,” Lilit Gas­paryan tweeted, ac­cord­ing to the BBC re­port.

“Just stag­ger­ingly ir­ri­tat­ing that — 20 years af­ter the birth of the web — NBC still shows the Olympics with a time de­lay,” tweeted Ger­ard Baker.

There is lit­tle doubt to many view­ers that NBC made air­ing com­mer­cials the top pri­or­ity of the night. The BBC re­port said NBC ex­ec­u­tives had lob­bied the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee un­suc­cess­fully to have the ath­letes pa­rade in English-lan­guage al­pha­bet­i­cal or­der rather than Por­tuguese. It quoted a Bloomberg re­port say­ing the rea­son for this was that “United States” would en­ter right to­ward the end of the line, thus giv­ing US TV view­ers an in­cen­tive to keep patch­ing to the very end.

Ex­pec­ta­tions for the Rio open­ing cer­e­mony were al­ready low given the news sto­ries about the short­age of funds for the event, the po­lit­i­cal tur­moil in Brazil and the men­ace of the Zika virus, but Brazil sur­prised many by pre­sent­ing an awe­some show with just a frac­tion of the bud­get spent on the Bei­jing and Lon­don Olympics.

Most Chi­nese be­lieve the Bei­jing Olympics open­ing cer­e­mony is unrivaled, but many have heaped praise on Rio’s open­ing cer­e­mony.

Writ­ing on the Phoenix TV web­site, Zhang Feng crit­i­cized the news me­dia for the neg­a­tive re­port­ing in the days lead­ing up to the Rio games. He de­scribed the Rio open­ing cer­e­mony as prob­a­bly the best in re­cent years.

“It was so bril­liant, even if you just took a quick look,” he wrote, adding that the Olympic torch light­ing and the flame was full of imag­i­na­tion and joy.

Com­ments on his ar­ti­cle were di­vided. While some praised the Rio cer­e­mony for the “green” con­cept, oth­ers said it still didn’t com­pare to the one in Bei­jing.

In the US, the “al­most live” broad­cast earned NBC a 16.5 per­cent rat­ing among house­holds, com­pared with 23 per­cent for the Lon­don Games, 18.8 per­cent for the Bei­jing Games and 14.4 per­cent for the Athens Games of 2004.

This echoes a Gallup poll re­leased on Aug 2 that shows Amer­i­cans’ in­ter­est in watch­ing the Olympics has hit a new low. Only 48 per­cent of Amer­i­cans say they plan to watch a “great deal” or “fair amount” of the 2016 Sum­mer Olympics, a sharp drop from the 59 per­cent in 2012 and eas­ily the low­est per­cent­age plan­ning to watch com­pared with the past four Sum­mer Games, ac­cord­ing to the poll.

Mean­while, 30 per­cent say they plan to watch “not much” of the Olympics and 21 per­cent say “none at all” — the high­est per­cent­age say­ing that since Gallup be­gan ask­ing the ques­tion in 2000.

Prob­a­bly a sur­prise to many, the sur­vey also showed that less than half (46 per­cent) of Amer­i­cans polled knew the Olympics were be­ing held in Rio.

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