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Some Final Thoughts on the Olympics: NBC's Coverage Wasn't Entirely Medal-Worthy
August 21, 2016  | By David Hinckley  | 3 comments

After 16 days and approximately 482,394 hours of Olympics coverage on several thousand platforms, I have to say this about NBC and the Summer Games: More was less.

It was all there, somewhere, every minute of every event, and that’s fine. It’s great that when other viewers like taekwondo or table tennis as much as I like women’s basketball or my wife likes gymnastics, they can see all of it.

But I also like to feel I’m keeping up with the larger flow of the Olympics – that I’m aware of the underdog rowing team that had a great race, or the first gold medal for Vietnam (right) and Puerto Rico, but that I’m also seeing all the best moments from the marquee events.

Watching NBC’s nightly prime-time roundup, the go-to spot for Olympics coverage, I felt less satisfied than I’ve felt in the past.

It’s not easy to find a balance that pleases both hard-core and casual sports fans. For me, the Rio shows too often felt a little disjointed and frustrating.

If I were running NBC Sports instead of sitting by myself at a keyboard, I’d do this: I’d put together a pure highlights show. I’d cherry-pick the best stuff and run it back-to-back-to-back. An Olympics version of ESPN’s SportsCenter.

If NBC wants to keep its main show, that’s fine. Put the pure sports version on the NBC Sports network. Don’t want to compete with the main show? Fine. Start it at 10 o’clock.

I’d watch, and I have a feeling I wouldn’t be alone.

I found this year’s prime-time show frustrating in part because this Olympics had more sports than ever. While you won’t convince me that BMX belongs and baseball doesn’t, there was a whole lot of sports competition that evening-only viewers never saw.

Now I know there are some off-the-field stories that need covering. The “Rio is wack” story, mercifully, receded once the Games started, and yes, we did need to hear about the idiot swimmers, though maybe not as much as we ultimately did.

A more serious long-term issue, one that NBC executives have addressed, stems from what the network does with the fact that 55% of Olympic viewership is women.

These women, the network tells us, care less about the sports themselves than the “stories” behind them, and NBC plans its coverage accordingly.

I suspect that may be underestimating women’s collective interest in actual sports, given the boom in participation. But even if it’s true, I’m not sure NBC has found the balance between the “stories,” which are fine, and the actual sports competitions, which are by definition the punch line of all the stories.

Sadly, viewers of any event like the Olympics will have to put up with the cross promotion for other network shows and personalities. For the record, nothing against Ryan Seacrest or Billy Bush, but they aren’t who I watch the Olympics to see.

And then there was one other area in which more was also less, at least for me: the sheer number of platforms.

I looked at the schedules for a couple of days and felt like I needed my own Olympic training to figure out what was where at what time. I don’t want to work that hard at something I’m watching for entertainment and relaxation.

While I’m sitting here complaining, I should add that I don’t underestimate the effort needed to cover something as sprawling as the Olympic games in a country that has logistical challenges.

I’m sure everyone at NBC Sports, from the social media desk to the field correspondents to the corner office occupants, is collapsing Monday morning in a wave of total, utter exhaustion.

At least they can take their victory nap with big smiles on their faces, because NBC says the Games made a pile of money, which in any corporate game is the real gold medal.

I do wonder, though, if the fact that “traditional” viewership declined might mean that in addition to moving to other platforms, some viewers found the main network coverage less compelling.

Even we relics of the 11th century know that the number of coverage platforms in future Olympics will only go up. It would just be nice if the center would hold.

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Kathy Pender
Thanks for giving words to my frustrations with the coverage. They covered my favorite sports, but dragged them out like a Dateline episode and ignored so many good moments with other sports and other athletes. I love the Sports Center idea.
Aug 30, 2016   |  Reply
chris wachsmuth
I would give NBC a C+ at best. I agree that a prime time that covers the Games highlights for the day would be highly preferable to what they did this time. And while they had a gazillion platforms you could ONLY access their online coverage if you also had bought the expensive sports cable packages or packages with USA network in them - which I and tons of other cord cutters do not have. there are so many creative ways to broadcast the Games - common NBC get with it ! Also NBC got an F ! in broadcast gender and racial diversity. So not only do they not get why women are sports fans but they also seem to think they are incapable of broadcasting the events - disgusting !
Aug 28, 2016   |  Reply
Deborah Bernstein
Being a woman, I am more interested the sports aspect than the "stories." I agree that NBC should have shown more of other sports. It would have been nice to see events that I don't usually watch. But my biggest peeve was that I got alerts from NBC during day that Simone Biles won bronze or that the U.S. team won gold in gymnastics. If you are going show tape delayed sports, don't give away the ending! Where's the suspense?
Aug 22, 2016   |  Reply
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