Despite 20 Years Of Experience, Comcast/NBC Still Sucks At Olympics Coverage

from the fourth-circle-of-hell dept

NBC (now Comcast NBC Universal) has enjoyed the rights to broadcast the US Olympics since 1998. In 2011, the company paid $4.4 billion for exclusive US broadcast rights to air the Olympics through 2020. In 2014, Comcast NBC Universal shelled out another $7.75 billion for the rights to broadcast the summer and winter Olympics in the US… until the year 2032. Despite years of practice, we’ve repeatedly noted how the company has done a consistently terrible job at its core responsibility as the holder of those rights: namely, showing people things they actually want to see in a way that isn’t annoying.

For years Comcast has been criticized for refusing to air events live, spoiling some events, implementing annoying cable paywall restrictions, implementing heavy handed and generally terrible advertising, often sensationalizing coverage, avoiding controversial subjects during broadcasts, and streaming efforts that have ranged from clumsy to outright incompetent.

You’d think after 20+ years of criticism Comcast NBC would be doing a better job. Then again, if you know Comcast NBC at all, the fact that they aren’t (and have been historically completely oblivious to that fact) probably isn’t all that surprising. And of course this year is no different.

While the internet and streaming have allowed Comcast/NBC to offer overall more content to viewers, the way it’s being presented continues to be scattershot as hell. The company’s coverage jumps from event to event in a head-jerking manner, failing to present much of a cohesive narrative from hour to hour:

“…instead of sticking with single events throughout primetime ? introducing them, highlighting the stakes and the protagonists, getting the viewer comfortable with the quirks of competition ? NBC has deployed this vast arsenal of broadcast resources to spray America?s households with a kind of inescapable Olympic televisual vomit.

A meaningful tip of the hat to the editor that let “televisual vomit” show up in the pages of The Guardian. And the chaos comes despite the fact that Olympics planners in Tokyo have increasingly tried to schedule events to make them more coherent to audiences in different time zones, especially the west:

“NBC?s programming choices have been consistently bizarre, even more so when you consider that whole chunks of the schedule in Tokyo ? for swimming above all, but also in the athletics ? were specifically rejigged to cater to the American TV audience, and at several points it?s been unclear to all but the most obsessive Olympics watchers whether what?s on TV at night in the US is live or a replay.”

Spend a few moments over at Reddit and you can also find just a general and profound audience confusion in terms of when things will be broadcast, how and where you can watch event follow ups, and what the hell is going on. And while Comcast having its own streaming app (Peacock) should ideally make things better, that doesn’t seem to be the case either. Promises of “free coverage” (with ads) via the app haven’t been fulfilled because this is Comcast, and Comcast wants to use the opportunity to upsell you to either a streaming subscription or a traditional cable TV subscription if you want to see anything other than celebrity quips:

“Peacock will broadcast the team gymnastics finals for both men and women for free, but to watch any of the men?s basketball coverage you must upgrade to Peacock Premium?which costs $4.99 a month (unless, again, you already have Xfinity Internet or a cable subscription). It?s another $5 to get rid of ads.”

Like most things Comcast/NBC does (see: broadband), it still expects to make a profit off of the Olympics thanks to ads, partnerships, viewer tracking data, and sponsored deals. This despite a lack of competence, Peacock itself being a money loser, sagging traditional cable subscriptions, and dipping ratings. Which is why complaints about Comcast/NBC Olympics coverage are more Sisyphean than productive, and we’ll all be back here complaining again in a few years.

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Companies: comcast, nbc, olympics, universal

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Comments on “Despite 20 Years Of Experience, Comcast/NBC Still Sucks At Olympics Coverage”

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Anonymous Coward says:

It's free South of the border

I find it perplexing that I, someone who lives in Mexico, receive free Olympic coverage through public television channels, while Americans have to pay for it. That’s not to say that public television in Mexico is any good (the quality of the content isn’t great), but I guess there’s a silver lining: I don’t have to pay for a subscription.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: It's free South of the border

You also get paternity/maternity leave down there. Unfortunately, you also have (IMHO) the worst copyright laws in the world: copyright is life+100years, and then instead of it being free for everyone to use, it becomes the property of the Mexican government.

I mean, Copyright laws are effed up in general, but Mexican copyright laws are especially egregious.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: It's free South of the border

and then instead of it being free for everyone to use, it becomes the property of the Mexican government.

You sure about that? From the Ley Federal del Derecho de Autor (the Federal Copyright Law):

Article 29.- The patrimonial rights shall be in force during:
I. The life of the author and, after his death, one hundred years more. When the work belongs to several co-authors, the one hundred years shall be counted from the death of the last one, and
II. One hundred years after publication.
If the owner of the economic right other than the author dies without heirs, the power to exploit or authorize the exploitation of the work shall correspond to the author and, in his absence, shall correspond to the State through the Institute (the National Copyright Institute), which shall respect the rights previously acquired by third parties. On expiration of the terms provided for in the sections of this Article, the work shall pass into the public domain.

TL;DR: IANAL, but I think what that means is that that only applies when the term of 100 years hasn’t expired, and the copyright was previously held by a person other than the author, and that copyright holder didn’t have any heirs. And even then, it doesn’t say that the State can hold the copyright indefinitely (then again, IANAL, but I seriously doubt that this is the case).

Not everything is bad, though. Noncommercial copyright infringement isn’t criminalized.

What is very bad is that they recently amended the law so that it provides for fines against anyone who fabricates or makes available anything intended to bypass a technological protection measure. And they added a notice-and-takedown provision, and it’s worse than the US version of it.

Pixelation says:

Re: It's free South of the border

In the US you can watch it free as well. However, most people don’t or don’t know that they can watch OTA TV. Even better, some TV’s allow you to add a USB and pause live TV. It is nice to watch the Limpics and be able to fast forward through crappy ads. I agree that NBC’s choices of what to air and when is a little weird. I don’t think I would watch any more of it than I do if they decided to air everything live as it happened.

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James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I don’t see that the author ever expressed that they want more Olympics. At best they want more Olympics coverage, but even that requires assuming you have correctly identified subtextual motives. That said:

Tech dirt Article: The IOC is corrupt.
Techdirt Article: Comcast/NBC is greedy and incompetent, and thanks to IOC’s corruption, they are apathetic to systemic failures in Comcast’s coverage of the Olypmics caused by the greed and incompetence. This is impacting the ability of fans to view these events.


These are not contradictory. You can recognize that the IOC is corrupt and still point out that NBC is corrupt. You can recognize that the IOC is corrupt and still want to support loved ones (no one but athletes are allowed in Tokyo, unlike previous olympics). You can recognize the IOC is corrupt and want to watch athletic events rarely broadcast widely.

Or if you are a news opinion site like techdirt, you might both report and comment on the IOC corruption and then comment that a major national broadcaster is incompitent at displaying the event put on by the corrupt organization. In fact, those things might be related.

So as Samual Abrams asked: What is you point? You’ve suggested a hypocracy, but I struggle to formulate how Techdirt is being inconsistent.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You wrote a joke then. Lets assess, shall we?

The joke starts with a hypocritical inconsistency, two women eating a a restaurant they dislike.

It then compares this to Techdirt’s reactions to first the IOC’s corruption and than the American broadcast of the Olympics.

It then, as a punchline, links to Lisa simpson singing "just don’t watch" to moral puritans upset over the Treehouse of Horror.

Ignoring if it is funny, as that is subjective, this is a fine sentiment to tell your drinking buddy who kept complaining. I mean, I highlighted that loved ones who could go and see athletes compete in person in previous games need this coverage to watch the event, but lets ignore that. It is not an appropriate comparison to level at an American news opinion site that focuses on Tech issues reporting on the Endemic Tech issues facing the American broadcasts and criticizing the American broadcaster.

It has nothing to do with a personal desire to watch the olympics. The treehouse of horror episode was commenting that those concerned about the content of the episode should not watch. Basic content warning, really. And even extended to not watching content because you dislike the back of house business, it doesn’t apply to journalism, nor discussions of policy, which is what Techdirt’s articles are.

Its a troll move. Its how trolls who wanted to shut down discussion of Ubisoft or Activision Blizzard’s horrible work environments have done so for so long because they just want the games. Individuals who don’t like it can just not play, right? Well, The recent news over these companies has been known in games journalism, in broad strokes, for years. Jim Stephanie Sterling has been going on about it for years, with a constant drumbeat of "than you don’t play" from the trolls, whose goal is to stop discussion of the issue, and make sure few people know that the controversy exists. Otherwise legal action might mean they cant play a game. Or worse, you might have to question if a video game is worth the suffering it took to create.

And thats the message you send. Journalists should stop reporting on the olympics. And the consequence is you don’t have to read about how bad your olympics are at every level.

The joke relied on an appeal to hypocrisy. It relied on misrepresenting Techdirt’s position. "No hypocrisy intended" doesn’t convince me you aren’t trolling, particularly as you aren’t apologizing.

Anonymous Coward says:

I long ago reached a point that the Olympics aren’t worth watching because of the way it’s covered. I simply no longer have an interest. So call me a lost viewer who is unlikely to return and therefore, not a financial supporter in any way.

They want me to pay for this scattershot approach that is all over the place but not consistent as to the whole event and even worse, not live but delayed. I fail to see any value in that whatever.

Anonymous Coward says:

nbc olympics app

There is a non-peacock NBC Sports app that has full coverage of every event. They app has many issues but you can see the full events.
Among the issues:
1) Having to listen to the down-under commentary team who don’t know crap about skateboarding when you can hear Tony -F’ing- Hawk in the background doing a great job.
2) A stream failing while chromecasting and having to start at the beginning and try to fastforward to where you think the show left off.
3) The commentary may be crap, but that doesn’t mean you let the waves drown out the audio of the surf competition. Same for the canoe/kayak.
4) Not being able to see the bar that says where you are in the program and can fast forward or rewind. Instead it says something like "Program will resume shortly".
5) Playing ads over a recorded stream like it was a live stream. Why am I missing parts of the event? Pause the stream, show an ad, and get back to the show.
6) The climbing qualifiers was a 5 hour stream of 3 events. About 2 hours of that stream was the wait between the events. How about a minimal amount of edits?

Still, it is better than nothing.

Sidamo says:

Re: nbc olympics app

Sounds like that’s a similar setup to what we have here in Australia.

The free-to-air TV stream jumps around to various sports, is loaded with ads and a bit of jingoism.

However, the streaming app has individual sports channels where you can watch whole events, including, as you mention for climbing, the periods between events where nothing is happening.

Same production issues I think, eg: I was watching the road cycling an the noise of the TV chopper drowned out the commentary audio etc. but I suspect that’s an on-the-ground missing issue rather than something the Aussie (or US) network techs were screwing up.

Slow Joe Crow (profile) says:

It could be worse

At least the mountain bike commentary didn’t have Phil Liggett talking. I signed up for Peacock premium partly to replace my NBC Sports Gold cycling stream. The,setup on a Roku was a major PITA and navigation for gymnastics coverage was garbage. On the bright side for $5 I do get all the cycling, kayaking and shooting coverage that never makes prime time. NBC still sucks 12" hg but streaming sucks only 10" hg.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:


With The NBC app and the Peacock app (and the low priced subscription) you get nearly everything.
It’s still better than the last round.

You point out 20 years but it’s more of a last 6 years of useable streaming services and most companies still have issues. Even powerhouse orgs like Amazon and YouTube have live streaming issues.

You can complain it’s not perfect but at least recognise each round of live whatever does get better!

nerdrage (profile) says:

they don't need 20 years of experience...

20 years or 200, what really matters is not experience but the ability to adapt to new ways people are consuming media, and Comcrap can’t handle that. It’s still stuck in antique cable ways of thinking.

If they were up to date, they would have:

-A premium priced ad-free tier for those who no longer waste their time watching ads. $20 for 2 weeks seems like a reasonable price

-Robust sorting mechanisms that allow users to choose the vanilla option (focus on big events, American athletes, lots of talking head blather) or curate their own experience (filter by nation, sport, team, athlete, trials vs finals and events-only vs ceremonies, talking head blather etc).

-Allow users to set their owns schedules (live, if they want to be awake for Tokyo time, or delayed otherwise) and receive alerts when something on their schedule has become available. The problem of avoiding spoilers is up to the individual. Just avoid social media for two weeks. If you can’t get off Facebook for two weeks, you have a problem.

Comcast should point a camera at everything that happens at the Olympics, upload the footage to their app, and provide sorting mechanisms that give users total control over what they experience and when. If I just want to see the Albanian water ballet team, and watch every last thing they do or say, then that should be accessible via the app, and I should be able to filter everything else out (especially the ads).

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