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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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Posted by Bill F

8:52 PM, Jun 26, 2008

This is one big reason I've lost interest in watching the Olympics on TV. I remember 24 years ago watching so much of the ABC coverage from LA live, and it's disappointing that NBC, in years since, has chosen to say "screw the west coast."

Posted by good ol' george

11:01 PM, Jun 26, 2008

Three letters to remember: C-B-C.
NBC will never get it, becuase their lips are firmly attached to their advertisers backside. This wouldn't happen if ABC (or ESPN) had the Games.

Posted by Walla Walla Girl

11:17 PM, Jun 26, 2008

Fascinating. What goes around, comes around. Screw NBC. I won't be watching their tape-delayed "repackaged schlock, spoon fed to the masses when the network darn well pleases." Thanks for the heads-up, though. I'll stick with the last-place Mariners. LIVE. On FSN.

Posted by Quaker2001

7:54 AM, Jun 27, 2008

Allow me to play devil's advocate here (and no, I don't work for NBC, nor does anyone in my family or anything like that). NBC is not stupid, if they thought they could get better ratings by showing events live at 4 in the morning, they would. But the fact is.. they don't get better ratings at 4 in the morning, advertisers pay more to buy time on primetime where the "repackaged schlock" is, the majority of the people there don't care that it's "repackaged schlock" and especially where the Americans are doing well, they'll watch it anyway even if they know the results. I had access to 2 Olympics on CBC (Nagano and Sydney). I loved having events on live in the middle of the night, but I'm a night owl that way, and it's hard to argue with NBC's logic to show the big events in primetime.. yes, even in this age where results and information are very easily accessible.

Now I live on the East Coast, and I'll grant you all that it really must suck being out West where everything gets delayed 3 hours and hopefully NBC will fix that for Beijing (I think it's very possible given when the live events will be coming in). Aside from the the anti-West Coast bias though which is a somewhat legitimate gripe, it still amazes me that people think that NBC is making all the wrong decisions on purpose as if they're not listening to what people actually want.

Posted by stephen

8:09 AM, Jun 27, 2008

Whats especially galling is their awefull primetime shows, gladiator, nashville star, celebrity fued,

This one is too funny- americas got talent (ironic, huh?).

Posted by Sports Lover

9:05 AM, Jun 27, 2008

This can't be a surprise. I've been watching the Canadian channel (as George mentions) for at least 4 Olympics. Can I say the word Olympics?

Posted by Free the Olympics!

9:28 AM, Jun 27, 2008

Enjoy the Olympics on CBC for the last time this year. Starting in 2010 for the Vancouver winter games the Canadian rights transfer to a group of private cable channels that aren't widely broadcast in the US, meaning we will all be stuck with NBC's shoddy coverage.


Things will reach a truly absurd level when NBC broadcasts daytime events in primetime tape delayed by 3-4 hours in Seattle when they are happening live just a 2 hour drive northward.

Posted by Ron Judd

10:38 AM, Jun 27, 2008

To Quaker: I hear you there. However, in the case of the Olympic Trials, live coverage on the West Coast would occur in the afternoon on weekends -- "prime time" for sports viewing. And in the case of the Olympics, nighttime finals in China would fall, yes, in early morning hours here, and morning hours on the East Coast. But why not provide some of it live on an alternate cable network? I honestly believe NBC thinks it would steal the thunder from their oh-so-charming primetime treatment.

Posted by OGfaninDC

11:26 AM, Jun 27, 2008

Regarding Vancouver and London on Canadian TV. The prime network for both Games is CTV, an over the air channel. CTV offered Brian Williams a lot of money to leave the CBC and host the coverage on CTV after they beat out CBC for the broadcast rights.

For those of you in Seatle, I don't know if you get CTV, but if you get the CBC out of Vancover, I would think you also get CTV's Vancouver affiliate. In additon, CTV teelevises live, as does the CBC. They were the Canadian broadcaster for Calgary, Barcelona and Lillehammer.

Posted by digital sasquatch

11:49 AM, Jun 27, 2008

CBC accomplishes more with less, presenting what almost amounts to a world-view with almost none of the BS that comprises NBC's flag-waving and chest-thumping. And somehow, CBC manages to squeeze in a few advertisements too, without catering to their sponsors' every whim.

Of course I want my 'team' to win everything they possibly can, but it is the Olympics, not US against the World...regardless of our CinC's delusions. 012109!

If what Free the Olympics posted is borne out, it'll dilute the Olympic experience that much more.

Posted by Greg

11:59 AM, Jun 27, 2008

They are dead to me and they have been for 20 years. The only thing I watch is the re-runs of the basketball games (where it's exciting to see extremely talented ballhogs struggle against mediocre college talent).

NBC has decided that the olympics are not real sports and have chosen to cover them like reality tv. The marketing gurus came up with the idea years ago that they could make more money making it into a predictible drama show aimed at women with no interest in sport rather than cover them like actual sporting events. They market the games to people who only want to be bothered by sports once in a while, so tht they don't miss their regular shows.

Posted by nocklebeast

1:27 PM, Jun 28, 2008

Even NBC's tape-delayed coverage is awful. The routinely screw up the most basic stuff. For the women's 10000m final, an announcer exclaims that Amy Begley may beat the Olympic "A" standard to qualify for the Olympics. The viewer is left searching for a clock on the screen to see if sheíll beat 31:45, but the clock isnít there. The brilliant editors havenít bothered to show the clock for the last 2 or 3 laps of the race. Ití the equivalent of not showing the clock and score anywhere on the screen for the last two minutes of an NBA finals game. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Posted by Kurosawa

10:02 AM, Jun 29, 2008

For the Summer Games, I'll be watching CBC. They know that TV is best live, NOT taped. While there is some homerism in their coverage, it is nothing like what'll get dished up by NBC. To heck with them!

Posted by kate

12:04 PM, Jun 29, 2008

don't overlook the fact that NBCs online coverage ONLY WORKS ON WINDOWS -- NOT on mac! yet another way they are selectively controlling who can see their programming.

is there a class-action suit possibility here? they have flooded the market with advertising about their FULL trials coverage ONLINE -- but never have i heard a disclaimer that it's only available online for windows users!

i'm so frustrated with them right now i could scream! hopefully you guys can pick up this angle in your continuing coverage of their scandalous business practices!


Posted by Billing Ham

3:27 PM, Jun 29, 2008

Kate:
Strangely, the NBC website video plays on my intel Mac but does not on my G4! It's the price they paid to use the new Silverlight player from Microsoft. It's time for us Mac users to revolt!

Posted by Yankee 49

9:41 PM, Jun 29, 2008

NBC and their website absolutely sucks! This is progress? Jim McKay could broadcast by satellite feed going back to 1968 and 40 years hence we're still black-out here on the west coast. How much friggin' ad sale dollars to they need for the trials?!

Posted by Shawnee

5:17 PM, Jul 01, 2008

Why in the world can't NBC/USA stop making this the Michael Phelps show! Michael Phelps doesn't want the attention! These other fifteen guys are his buddies, and all have worked as hard, in fact harder, to be where they are. Acknowledge these swimmers for Pete's sake! I want to know the name and see the face of every swimmer out there at trials who has made it to the semis. Rowdy Gaines knows better and Costa can't stop fawning and ignoring--horrid lack of recognition for all these kids

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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.

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