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Ron Judd's Olympics Insider

Ron Judd, an Olympics junkie and Seattle Times columnist who has covered Olympic sports since 1997, will use this space to serve up news and opinion on the Summer and Winter Games -- also inviting you to chime in on Planet Earth's biggest get-together.

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June 26, 2008 2:30 PM

NBC, firmly on the cutting edge, readies delayed coverage for irrelevant West Coast

Posted by Ron Judd

We know what you're thinking: New era, new technology, new delivery systems. Finally, the Olympic Games will arrive at home in something close to real time.

Response from NBC: As if!

All these years, all those complaints, all those billions, and the programming geniuses at NBC/Universal, or whatever they call themselves these days, still don't get it.

The peacock network released its schedule today for the big U.S. Olympic swimming and track-and-field trials, and one thing stands out: West Coast viewers, as usual, will get nothing live from NBC. Not a dip-in update, not a taste of same-time coverage. Nothing.

And, although TV grids with exact programming won't be available until next week, it looks like the very same thing is planned for television coverage of the Beijing Games themselves, with the possible exception of some yet-undefined, live Internet streaming.

Here's what's on tap for the next week, which, we fear, will be an omen for the Aug. 8-24 Games:

The network will reduce the U.S. track and field trials in Eugene to a late-night highlight show, with midnight to 1 a.m. coverage on weekdays. Hour-long weekend summary shows will air at 8 p.m. on Saturday and 7 p.m. on Sunday, on both the East and West Coasts. That means every second of NBC's coverage will be delayed to the West Coast -- in spite of the fact that the event is occurring on the West Coast. Even on weekends.

Swimming trials in Omaha? Same scenario. Beginning Sunday, NBC will crank out an hour-long show every night at 8 p.m. (Sunday's coverage is on NBC; it then switches to USA Network Monday through Thursday before moving back to NBC for next Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.)

None of this is surprising, given NBC's long tradition -- contrary to network coverage in other civilized parts of the world -- of turning Olympic sports into repackaged schlock, spoon fed to the masses when the network darn well pleases. But it's even more amazing in this era of full-time, realtime coverage. Does NBC not get that it's 2008?

Even worse, the network is doing it all by choice, not necessity. NBC, which owns Olympic sport coverage in the U.S. lock, stock and smoking barrel, is taking an entire arsenal of high-tech, cutting-edge technology and effectively rendering it useless through its own institutional bassackwardness. Consider the following glimpse into NBC's new broadcasting toolbox, and how they'll utilize each tool for the Olympic Trials:

-- The network has a new deal with the former Internet sports channel, WCSN.com (now "Universal Sports"), which made a name for itself by broadcasting Olympic sports, such as ski racing, live when they were not available live through any other medium in the states. NBC will use this cutting-edge, instant-broadcast capability to -- drumroll please -- "air encore presentations" (translation: even-further-delayed reruns) of NBC coverage of Olympic track and swimming trials. Why? The network did utilize this new online toy to show some live, early-round coverage of trials for gymnastics and diving -- stuff we don't normally see on TV. That's the right idea. So why not the big-ticket items, track and field and swimming?

-- NBC's flashy Olympic-sports Web site, nbcolympics.com, will "simulcast" the NBC and USA Network coverage of the trials for swimming and track and field. Yeah, that's how you want to take advantage of the real-time capabilities of the Web -- for mirroring delayed, canned coverage your viewers can sit and watch at the same time in their living room on cable. This should prove highly popular among at least one elite target audience -- Michael Phelps fans stuck in the drive through at Taco Time for seven hours with nothing on hand but an iPhone.

-- Speaking of which: The latest gadgetry, "NBC Olympics Mobile," will offer "comprehensive coverage of the U.S. Olympic Trials for users on the go," the network says in a release. Offered will be "news, schedules, and slideshow galleries from the trials," as well as "highlights and exclusive feature videos on-demand to mobile video users."

And there you have it: If you do get anything live from NBC from Eugene or Omaha in the next week, it will come to you in full, living, 1.5-inch (measured diagonally) stunning cell-phone color.

As we mentioned, the grids for the network's Beijing coverage itself are still in the works. But West Coasties should be prepared for more of the same -- the vast majority of Olympic events delayed by 12-15 hours, for prime-time packaging. No question the time difference in play here -- Beijing is 12 hours ahead of New York, 15 hours ahead of Seattle -- makes live coverage challenging. Games organizers have, in fact, shifted some schedules around to help: Swimming finals, for example, will take place in the mornings in Beijing, giving NBC the chance to show them live in prime time in New York. Some gymnastics and beach volleyball likewise will be live-coverage candidates. But even that coverage likely will be delayed three hours to Seattle, if the network insists on its usual prime-time packaging approach.

It's the usual East Coast-centric mindset: Viewers in New York and Philadelphia and MIami deserve to see it live. L.A., Seattle, Portland? Let them wait.

One small glimmer of hope for people with fast broadband connections: The network is promising "live streaming Olympic broadband coverage, 2,200 hours in all," from Beijing. No details yet. And no promises of any live Beijing coverage on the new all-Olympic-sport TV network NBC is supposed to be building to supplement the Universal Sports online streams.

All told, the network is promising some 3,600 hours of Beijing TV coverage -- which it claims is more than the combined total coverage hours of all previous Summer Olympics broadcast in the U.S.

But our point remains the same: Pre-packaged, time-delayed schlock spread across multiple platforms is still pre-packaged, time-delayed schlock. We don't care if it arrives via satellite, cell phone, broadband or pony express: By the time we get it, it'll still be yesterday's news. (And believe me, we hear in the newspaper business know something about yesterday's news.)

Being around around the Olympics for the past decade, we have heard one message loud and clear from the Games-viewing public: People want it live. They care not whether it interrupts the nightly blonde hairflip intro to the Dopper weather map on the 5 p.m. local news, soap operas, or even Oprah. (Isn't this why networks use an alternate network, such as USA, in the first place? Because live coverage would only supplant reruns of "Matlock?")

So once again we're left wondering: What part of this does NBC fail to understand?

The sad thing is, because NBC has wrapped up broadcast rights for everything that even smells Olympic -- down to the level of police-state monitoring of non-NBC reporters who might dare bring a web camera onto the pool deck, or into an interview room, at this year's track and swimming trials -- nobody else broadcasting on the Internet or elsewhere can make up for the network's own programming stupidity.

It's a monopoly. There will be no revolution. And even if there was, you wouldn't know about it from NBC until 15 hours after it was over.

The full NBC/USA schedule for swimming and track and field is reprinted here, for your tape-delayed viewing pleasure:

U.S. OLYMPIC TRIALS - SWIMMING: Michael Phelps, Aaron Piersol, Katie
Hoff, Kate Ziegler, Dara Torres, Brendan Hansen and Natalie Coughlin are
among the swimmers who take to the pool in Omaha, Neb., as they seek a
spot on the U.S. Olympic team as NBC Sports and USA Network present
eight straight primetime nights of the U.S. Olympic Trials for swimming.
Phelps is attempting to qualify for the Olympic Games in nine individual
events: 100, 200 and 400 meters freestyle, the 200 and 400 individual
medley, the 100 and 200 backstroke and the 100 and 200 butterfly.

Bob Costas, Dan Hicks, Rowdy Gaines and Andrea Kremer report from the
Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb.

Sun., June 29
Swimming
8-9 p.m. ET/PT
NBC
Featured events:
Men's 400m Individual Medley Final
Women's 400m Individual Medley Final

Mon., June 30
Swimming
8-9 p.m. ET/PT
USA
Featured events:
Men's 200m Freestyle Semifinal
Men's 100m Breaststroke Final
Men's 100m Backstroke Semifinal
Women's 400m Freestyle Final

Tues., July 1
Swimming
8-9 p.m. ET/PT
USA
Featured events:
Men's 200m Freestyle Final
Women's 100m Backstroke Final
Men's 100m Backstroke Final
Men's 200m Butterfly Semifinal

Wed., July 2
Swimming
8-9 p.m. ET/PT
USA
Featured events:
Men's 200m Butterfly Final
Men's 200m Breaststroke Semifinal
Women's 200m Individual Medley Final

Thurs., July 3
Swimming
8-9 p.m. ET/PT
USA
Featured events:
Men's 200m Breaststroke Final
Women's 100m Freestyle Semifinal
Men's 200m Backstroke Semifinal

Fri., July 4
Swimming
8-9 p.m. ET/PT
NBC
Featured events:
Men's 200m Backstroke Final
Men's 200m Individual Medley Final
Women's 100m Freestyle Final

Sat., July 5
Swimming
8-9 p.m. ET/PT
NBC
Featured events:
Men's 100m Butterfly Final
Women's 800m Freestyle Final
Men's 50m Freestyle Final

Sun., July 6
Swimming
7-9 p.m. ET/PT
NBC
Featured events:
Women's 50m Freestyle Final
Men's 1,500m Freestyle Final

U.S. OLYMPIC TRIALS - TRACK & FIELD:
Tyson Gay, Allyson Felix, Jeremy Wariner, Bernard Lagat, Reese Hoffa,
Sanya Richards and Lauryn Williams are among the top competitors at the
historic Hayward Field at the University of Oregon looking to earn a
trip to Beijing to represent the U.S. at the Olympic Games. Tom
Hammond, Carol Lewis, Lewis Johnson, Ato Boldon, Dwight Stones, Ed
Eyestone and Bob Neumeier report from Eugene, Ore.

Fri., June 27
Track & Field
Midnight-1a.m.ET/PT
USA
Featured events:
Women's 10,000m Final
Women's 100m Quarterfinal

Sat., June 28
Track & Field
8-9 p.m. ET/PT
NBC
Featured events:
Women's 100m Final
Men's Shot Put
Men's 100m Quarterfinal

Sun., June 29
Track & Field
7-8 p.m. ET/PT
NBC
Featured events:
Men's 100m Final
Men's 400m Hurdle Final
Woman's 400m Hurdle Final
Men's 400m Quarterfinal
Men's Pole Vault

Mon., June 30
Track & Field
11 p.m.-1 a.m. ET/PT
USA
Featured events:
Men's 5,000m Final
Men's 400m Semifinal
Men's and Women's 800m Final
Women's 400m Semifinal

Thurs., July 3
Track & Field
11 p.m.-1 a.m. ET/PT
USA
Featured events:
Women's 400m Final
Men's 400m Final
Men's 1,500m Quarterfinal
Women's Steeplechase Final

Fri., July 4
Track & Field
11 p.m.-1 a.m. ET/PT
USA
Featured events:
Men's 1,500m Semifinal
Women's 5000m Final
Men's 10,000m Final

Sat., July 5
Track & Field
5-6 p.m. ET/PT
NBC
Featured events:
Women's 200m Semifinal
Men's 200m Semifinal
Men's High Jump Final

Sun., July 6
Track & Field
7-9 p.m. ET/PT
NBC
Featured events:
Women's 1500m Final
Men's 200m Final
Women's 200m Final
Women's Pole Vault Final
Men's Javelin
Men's 110m Hurdle Final
Women's 100m Hurdle Final
Men's 1,500m Final


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Blogroll and links

www.olympic.org: The official International Olympic Committtee site, with news releases, a searchable Olympic medals database and other archival information.
www.nbcolympics.com: Olympic news site from one of the Games' primary sponsors.
NBC Olympics columnist Alan Abrahamson's column/blog
Chicago Tribune Olympic sports writer Philip Hersh's blog
www.usolympicteam.com: U.S. Olympic Committee's athlete web site.
www.aroundtherings.com: Ed and Sheila Hula's Olympic News Service (subscription).
www.wcsn.com: News service with audio, video and text coverage of Olympic sports, during and between Olympics. Free, but charges for live video feed subscriptions.
www.beijing2008.com: Beijing Organizing Committee Web site.
www.vancouver2010.com: Vancouver Organizing Committee's 2010 Winter Games site.
www.london2012.com: London 2012 Summer Games site.
www.sochi2014.com: Sochi, Russia's 2014 Winter Games site.
www.chicago2016.org: Candidate city Chicago's summer 2016 bid committee site.
Olympic swimmer Tara Kirk's highly entertaining WCSN blog
Bellevue Olympian Scott Macartney's WCSN alpine ski-racing blog
Other WCSN Olympic athlete blogs.