Was absolutely thrilling to watch, with Usain Bolt once again prevailing over what had to be the strongest ever field of sprinters. Bolt finished the race in 9.63 seconds -- the second-best ever time (after his own 9.58) -- with seven of the eight finalists finishing in less than 10 seconds. There were three Americans among the field, too, with Justin Gatlin of New York earning the bronze. Bolt’s fellow countryman from Jamaica, Yohan Blake, took the silver.
Like many here in the U.S., I didn’t bother waiting around the six-plus hours until 11:15 p.m. Eastern time to watch the delayed coverage on NBC, but rather viewed the race live online. Luckily I was watching the BBC 1 feed, as the online stream NBC was delivering apparently failed for just about everyone who tried to view it that way.
On the teevee, NBC was in fact showing an event live yesterday afternoon when the 100 meter race was happening, only it was in beach volleyball, a quarterfinal match involving one of the U.S. teams (April Ross and Jennifer Kessy) and a team from the Czech Republic (Marketa Slukova and Kristyna Kolocova). Actually that match had not even started, but NBC was offering some pre-match commentary while the sprinters were running over at the Olympic Stadium.
Like many, I found myself scratching my head over NBC’s decision to withhold live coverage of the race. I understand ratings for the prime time hours have been good (as in up from previous Olympics) which I suppose means the strategy of showing events delayed and edited is working for the network. This despite the fact that NBC shows 20 full minutes’ worth of commercials during each hour of prime time (no shinola).
But this was a weekend afternoon, a popular time for Americans to watch live sports on television. And something more than a quarter of the world’s population was watching the event as it happened.
Sure, I get that this is all business and someone somewhere pulling the strings at NBC has calculated that if the network aired the 100-meter final live late Sunday afternoon that would affect the viewership six-plus hours later significantly enough to warrant suppressing the live coverage. That said, I’m one of those who sometimes likes to pretend the Olympics are about something other than money -- say, the intangible value that might come from sharing the experience of witnessing some positive form of human achievement along with 2 billion other people.
But I’m also cynical enough to know that in reality that’s probably just happy-hippy-talk.
It’s tempting to draw some sort of connection between what NBC is doing with the Olympics and ESPN’s coverage of the WSOP this year (this is a poker blog, after all). Recall last year’s experiment with the “almost live” coverage of Days 3-8 of the Main Event. Those shows in July were well received and drew relatively large audiences, but the later edited shows saw a precipitous drop in ratings.
Some later attributed lower ratings for the “highlight” shows as having been caused in part by the earlier live coverage -- that is, viewers who watched in July didn’t bother to watch again later on. So this year there was no “almost live” coverage of the Main Event. (The edited shows from this year’s ME begin on ESPN next week.)
Of course, comparing a poker tournament to an event like the one that happened yesterday is perhaps not quite fair. As fun as the “almost live” WSOP coverage could be for some of us to watch, one could reasonably argue an event like a lengthy poker tournament is in fact better presented in highlight form or at least edited in some fashion. And while any delay necessarily affects the suspense inherently created by a live competition, it isn’t as vital a concern with poker as with sporting events such as the 100-meter dash.
That’s not even mentioning how nothing will ever happen in poker that could possibly attract the attention of 2 billion people. Heck, I don’t believe ESPN has ever even gotten 2 million people to watch the WSOP.
There are still plenty of other live events being carried on NBC’s several affiliated networks for Americans to enjoy, including the basketball and soccer (both of which have dedicated channels showing all games/matches live).
Still feels like NBC stumbled significantly yesterday, though, in its chase for ratings. There was something bigger going on. More human.