It's become something of a part of the Olympics experience to bash the Ameri-centric terrible coverage. I read this post over at Vox about the coverage and it clarified some things for me. First, if women watch more Olympics coverage, that explains why I see so many more laundry detergent and juice commercials as compared to other sporting events. Also, if NBC is treating the broadcast coverage as an entertainment package, while the sports that air on other channels get treated more like sports, that explains a lot about why the cable coverage, and the online and app coverage has such a different feel.
However, I think it still fails on some really important levels.
1. It's clear to me that they are monitoring social media coverage. I hear commentators talking about Twitter comments, referencing articles that got lots of social media boost. And that's great. But that's reactive. If moms are your target audience, then you should never have done a package where you tried to position a gymnast who was adopted at the age of two as a hardship. You should never have referred to the people who adopted her as anything other than her mom and dad. It shouldn't require social media backlash for you to recognize that as a misstep.
2. Viewing the Olympics as entertainment rather than sport still doesn't mean you don't need to be prepared to change quickly. When Simone Manuel won the first Olympic gold as an African American, social media lit up with posts about why that was important, not just for her, but for us as a country. Now, I confess, maybe it was unexpected that she won, but come one, NBC has my attention and it's squandering it. I'm basically getting all the info and color I need elsewhere. And Simone Manuel herself, said when she won, this was so important because of the history of African American swimmer in the US. She handed that to them. They were not ready.
3. No matter where the Olympics are, there are many things happening at once. During the tennis (which aired on cable), they made use of picture in picture, split screen, and other such things, so that we could keep an eye on the men's semifinal or peek at the mixed doubles final while still watching the ladies bronze medal match. I did one time pull out the app so I could stream one game while they finished showing me the medal ceremony for the other. But that was fine. Splicing swimming that's happening live, with pre-taped gymnastics creates a challenge, but there are still better ways to make the prime time watchers happier.
4. If your target audience is women, then the rampant sexism in the coverage is especially inexcusable. Female athletes are all shown with family, talking about how their family supported and helped them, and often their coaches and spouses are given credit for much of their success. There's discussion of how they are regular gals who like getting their nails done. Male athletes work hard and succeed because they are gifted men who only have family if that family happens to be seated in the stands watching them. I mean, I suppose it's possible that almost all the male athletes are single, coachless, and parentless. And none of the packages on male athletes showed them going to get their hair done.
And when a female gymnast pulls out a notebook and the color commentator quips that it's a diary, only to be corrected by the female commentator (and the camera that zoomed in) that she was checking the math on her start score, let it go. Don't get so stuck in your ridiculous world view that you keep insisting it's a diary when it has been proven not to be so.
5. And let's talk about the questions to athletes. Stop asking athletes about other athletes. What Michael Phelps thinks or says about his teammates is nice, but it's nuts that so many athletes - instead of basking in their own achievements - are constantly asked to validate or comment on what others have said about them. And stop trying to craft a narrative with your question, that's not only bad journalism it's bad TV. When you ask an athlete about their performance, if they have answered, move on, don't ask the same question four more times. What will your grandmother think of that performance? How about your coach? Your teammates? Watching an athlete struggle to be polite because they have already addressed the question doesn't create better TV.
6. There is no excuse for NBC having covered the Olympics for so long, and having no depth in their coverage of other countries. If this ties back to dated stereotypes about what housewives in the Midwest know, let me assure you, housewives in the Midwest can think of more famous Jamaicans than just Bob Marley, and if they can't, they know how to google.
7. People who watch the Olympics know they are watching sports. Yes, they may never show an interest in handball again, or not for another four years, but they know these are sports. Useful sports commentating benefits both the people who don't know anything about sport and manages to not entirely irritate people who do. I don't tune in to football and expect them to explain basic things. These commentators are so hamstrung they are literally repeating the same five things to me each event. It's not only irritating if you've ever watched an Olympics before, it's irritating if you watched yesterday.
But I will confess, there was an Olympics sized hole in my heart today. Even if I am a little grateful to get back to regular TV.