This is the warp-speed, digital age when communications about communication move at star-blurring rates as the Enterprise plunges into deep space. OK, communication is fast. And in addition to our sheer acceptance of modernity, is there any way this generation of sports fans, who have the patience of a fruit fly, would endure waiting for film reels to arrive by transatlantic ship?
Not only no way, but emphatically no need.
What this age does boast, though, is digital wherewithal. There’s scarcely a glimmer of light between dream it and do it.
That’s especially true at NBC Universal, where the network that has broadcast the summer Olympics since 1988 (hats off to Dick Ebersol) is about to launch a bold, ambitious — and yes, a tad bit expensive — plan to show every event in the upcoming London Olympic Games in real time and live.
NBC will use television, tablets, mobile devices and broadband connections to show all 5,535 hours of the XXX Olympiad, beginning with the opening ceremony July 27 until the closing ceremony Aug. 12. That’s a stretch of sports news unimaginable when transatlantic cable let us know about Jesse Owens’ magnificent performance in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and audiences here had to wait a couple of weeks before seeing the Pathe newsreel film in American movie theaters. Think of it as a variation on your ship coming in. Transatlantic commercial air traffic would come in 1939. But that was then; that was the best of technology for the time.
And even in more recent times, American television network bosses longed for the Games to unfold in time zones compatible to U.S. prime time: think Montreal, Mexico City. Better still, Olympic Games in U.S. cities: Los Angeles and Atlanta, for example.
The digital age has conquered time and place.
NBC Universal paid $2.2 billion in 2003 for the rights to broadcast the 2010 Winter Games and the London Olympics and, even though NBC lost a reported $200 million on Vancouver in 2010 and analysts project a similar loss for London, the network paid $4.38 billion for rights to Olympics through 2020.
No question that Jim Bell, who succeeded the legendary Ebersol as overall executive producer of the network's coverage of the 2012 Olympic games, went big on this one. Even sports broadcasting innovator Roone Arledge probably would admire Bell and NBC for this most ambitious undertaking. That, or he would have outbid NBC.
Arledge “spanned the globe” to present the Wide World of Sports for ABC, gave Olympics fans “Up Close and Personal” profiles of athletes and it’s fair to say that he took film and videotape into the vanguard of sports television. Vivid proof that ABC was as much substance as style came in 1972 when sports anchor Jim McKay (“the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat”) delivered the somber message “They’re all gone,” when 11 Israeli athletes were killed by terrorists who raided the Olympic Village in Munich.
That was sports journalism at its finest.