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.