Every two years the Olympics roles around--once during the summer and once during the winter. Generally, the sports featured in both the summer and winter games are not sports that garner much attention outside the Olympics. However, as the games approach, the sports consumer, and even the passive media consumer, is inundated with stories about skiers, skaters, runners, swimmers, throwers and boaters--most of whom no one has ever heard of.
The media blitz promoting the Olympics is so heavy that audiences are literally frothing at the mouth in anticipation of sports they only watch every four years. How can you possibly choose not to watch? After all, this festival of sport only comes but twice a decade, surely you must plant yourself in front of the TV. That may or may not be true, but in either case, good luck trying to watch any of the events live.
Getting your Olympic fix on tape delay has rarely annoyed me in the past. I generally wasn't too disappointed that I couldn't get ping-pong live from Bejing or ski jumping live from Torino. However, I was pretty annoyed when the Michael Phelps swimming events were promised live, but wound up being televised live on the east coast only. Then I was downright furious when I stood there watching the race with the word "live" displayed in the top right corner of the screen despite the fact I already knew Phelps had won.
These winter games in Vancouver have been no different. Everything is taped, edited and packaged for prime time in New York. However, this time the Olympics are on the West Coast. In fact, Vancouver is less than a seven hour drive from the television on which I watch the tape delayed Olympics--but I still can't see any of the events I want to watch live!
Perhaps I shouldn't be so upset that the Olympics don't come on live. I grew up skiing and watching downhill blows my mind. However, the truth remains, that for most people the Winter Olympics only represent a demonstration of the various sleds a human can strap to their body to travel down a mountain. NBC recognizes this.
Accordingly, NBC has packaged the Olympics like a show and not a conventional sporting event for years. They plug Bob Costas and Al Michaels into their usual roles and replay Al Michaels "do you believe in miracles" after every commercial break. Then they infuse some patriotic fervor with nice American story lines and national medal counts as if the athletes care about it. Finally, they splice together a highlight real of the major events from the day and replay it as the Americanized dramatization of sport.
Sure there are some live events from time to time. I caught curling on USA the other day while I was eating lunch. I also noticed there was women's hockey on MSNBC not too long ago. However, that is only if you reside on the West Coast (you know, where they Olympics are taking place). There has been far more televised live on the east because the afternoon events in Vancouver fall neatly into the prime time slots on the east. At least the United States/Canada hockey game was on live Sunday at 4:00pm PST. Well of course it was; the game was scheduled to take place in prime time on the east. Moreover, it was only available live on MSNBC on the West Coast. So for any fans on the west that wanted to watch the game in HD, they had to wait for the tape delayed coverage on NBC because MSNBC doesn't come in HD.
Tape delaying the Olympics is a time honored tradition. However, it has become insulting to the 21st century sports fan. We live in a world where we expect to know sports results as they happen. If you don't want to know the results of a premier Olympic event before it's televised (ie: downhill racing, snowboard half pipe, figure skating etc.), you need to hide under a rock. You certainly can't go online, and don't even think about going to ESPN.com --unless Tiger Woods is giving a press conference about cheating on his wife. Which, by the way, you could have watched live on ESPN, CNN, Fox News or any other cable outlet.
NBC has completely zapped any drama from the Olympics. Can you imagine if the World Cup were tape delayed? Can you imagine if you knew ahead of time Bruce Willis was dead in The Sixth Sense? No, it would be pointless to watch. NBC doesn't delay their coverage of Wimbledon, but they still insist on their presentation of the Olympics.
On a day when Shaun White's visage was featured in the center of NYTimes.com discussing the half pipe, not even his gold medal winning show could be shown live to West Coasters. Shaun White is easily the most recognizable winter athlete at the games and probably the most famous winter athlete of all time. He laid down a gold medal clinching run his first time down the pipe and had the gold in hand before his final run. What did he do for a victory lap? He laid down the Double McTwist 1260 (that only he can land)--the same trick he slammed his head into the wall with during practice at the X-Games. The crowd went nuts, the announcers went nuts, Shaun went nuts--and what did NBC do?
NBC taped it and replayed it several hours later.