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Monday, August 22, 2016

Rio 2016 Olympics Television Coverage, Judges Say?

NBC and the Olympics are synonymous
The Summer Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, were nothing less than a success on the fields, courts, pools*, roads, course, beaches, oceans, tracks, and any other surface I missed.  More on pools in a minute.  The environment around the games was not as crisp.  Reports of unsuitable quarters for the athletes, rumors of unsafe conditions on the streets, and some events not selling tickets as expected (and, shockingly, those in power scalping tickets) provided some tarnish, but fans tune into watch sports and their athletes, not a documentary on a city.

So how was the TV coverage?  Excellent, good, bad, and worse.  But mostly good.  This is reflective of the United States coverage of the Games, I cannot comment on other countries TV coverage.

The Excellent

Event on air talent.  NBC did a great job of bringing in event experts that could break down the events for a layperson to understand.  Be it Water Polo, Gymnastics, Volleyball, Golf, you name it.  Ato Boldon and Sonya Richards-Ross were particularly strong in Track and Field.  Announcers had a great balance of commentary or letting the moment speak for itself.  There were a few cases of gender bias noted (in my opinion limited to individuals, not systemic), but in whole, this was a strength.

Focus on United States.  Let's face it.  Americans do not watch Fencing (or Judo or Equestrian or Volleyball or Water Polo and I could go on).  But if there is an American stake, I'm going to watch.  NBC again did a good job of focusing on United States while still showing great moments from other sports.  I never felt like either was let down, the balance was good.

Mike Tirico.  One of the great broadcasters/anchors of our era, great they signed him in time to do these games.  He's extremely knowledgeable, his demeanor rubs no one the wrong way, and he's extremely well prepared.  He's not overbearing and his ego is in check (unlike other talent).  Next Olympics he needs to be the featured guy.

Mike Tirico is finally getting his chance to lead a broadcast
 The Good

Interviews.  The balance of interviews either just after the event (excellent) or in the studio (pretty good) were fun to watch.  The event ones were sometimes awkward due to the instant nature of them, but athletes and on court/field media talent were a strength.  Good example was Carmelo Anthony just after the United States Men's basketball win or Lewis Johnson on the track.  The studio interviews were nice, but canned questions and predictable answers sometimes left me thinking that it was gratuitous.  I still watched, though.

Lewis Johnson captures a moment when this athlete was DQ'd just after event (later overturned)
Breadth of coverage.  With all the channels within the NBC network, no event was left uncovered.  You could review the daily schedule and find your event no matter what it was.  At worst, you could revert to online watching.  It was frustrating in that many times it was unclear what event was starting when, forcing you to watch another event for fear you might miss what you wanted.  A more clear itinerary (which changes in real time) is an improvement to consider here.

The Bad

Focus on off field issues.  This is not all NBC's fault.  Ryan Lochte focus (he's just one very bad person among a thousand athletes).  Focus on who had their hand over their heart (mostly on social media).  Who was wearing religious headgear.  But mainly Lochte.  He and his teammates acted foolishly and their Olympic legacy is forever impacted negatively.  The drama was more of a TMZ nature, not worthy of continuous discussion at the expense of other stories.  By no means am I saying downplaying what happened, the behavior was despicable.  But like the hand over heart, focus on religion, etc., there were too many real inspiring sports stories that got less air time because of that focus.  Disappointed in the average American viewer that every single turn of events had to be turned into a racial divide (again, holding hands over hearts, treatment of Lochte, even the otherwise extremely inclusive Ellen DeGeneres was accused of a racist tweet...she was just trying to be funny).  I was hoping the Olympics could have been more uniting.

There should have been more joy and less scorn by media and fans
Bob Costas.  Retire.  Please.  He's offering very little these days.  His voice overs seemed over rehearsed at best, canned at worst.  He's way more interested in advancing his own profile than actually covering sports (in my humble opinion).  He acts like whatever he says is the most important thing ever (while a guy like Tirico is offering good, fresh insight).  The page of the novel needs to be turned.

The game has passed up ole Bob

The Worse

Tape Delayed events.  The balance between the millions of dollars paid for the broadcast rights vs. sharing the moment with the world is the root cause.  Gymnastics mostly happened in the afternoon, yet NBC chocked their evening coverage full of replays to garnish ratings.  Everyone knew who won from online media.  You get to see the performances, but at that point, you're losing the part of your audience that is watching for the uncertainty, which is appreciable.  I know people who have to work, but show it live (on NBC) and let the United States engage in real time.

NBC missed a chance to let the USA be more global and share a moment with the world
Opening Ceremonies.  Related to the Tape Delay.  The one event the World is watching and the United States were watching a delayed production.  Unacceptable.  Broken up by frequent commercials (put at every six minutes by some).  The parade of athletes was choppy with the commercial breaks and overall it just needed to be more of the happenings in real time, than the coverage.

In summary, I give a 7.2 (out of 10).  Get rid of Bob Costas and tape delays and you're approaching 9 out of 10.  Unfortunately, in the divisive country we live in, I'm not sure we can ever watch the Olympics and see everyone as Americans, instead of African American, European American, Muslim American, and so forth.  Maybe by Tokyo.


  1. Great synopsis, Dave! The contrast between Tirico and Costas is spot on. I could've used 90% less coverage of the Lochte fiasco as well.

  2. Thanks Jake; unfortunately in general sports news has turned to "who got busted at a traffic stop" and "who committed domestic abuse" as click bait instead of on the field action.