2010 Winter Olympics: A Look at NBC's Troubled Coverage

Josh McMullenCorrespondent IFebruary 22, 2010

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 12:  Former ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky takes part in the lighting of the Olympic flame during the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at BC Place on February 12, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

Normally, I enjoy watching the Olympics, no matter what season it is. I enjoy the thrill of watching the USA try to dominate other nations most people have never heard of. I also enjoy watching Joe Everyman from some small country (where, incidentally, he is the only athlete participating for his country) turn out to be a crazy good athlete and destroy everybody in a massive upset.

However, something has completely ruined my watching experience this time around: NBC’s coverage of the Games.

There are four big reasons why NBC has totally ruined my Olympic TV experiences:


Mismanaging Event Coverage

As most of you know, I am a big hockey fan. My excitement toward the Olympic hockey tournament was multiplied tenfold by the inclusion of Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller to the American team. When the Olympic coverage started two weeks ago, I was very excited to see Team USA dominate the early rounds. What did I get? I got figure skating, snowboarding, and the luge. While two of those are problematic, but not necessarily bad, figure skating was the icing on the cake. All in all, through the first few days of the games, I got to see two games on NBC: the entire Russia/Slovakia game (which probably nobody outside of those two countries cared about) and five minutes of coverage when Team USA beat Canada; the rest of the games were covered on the USA network.

It’s embarrassing to take the sport that will bring the most eyes to your network and put it on a network that quite a few people can’t get without a satellite dish. Most people turn to the Olympics to watch the hockey tournament, among other things, and taking it off the network that will give it the most exposure is not only a bad business decision, but really, really bad for your ratings.


No Respect for the Dead

The death of Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili, was a very tragic incident that probably could have been avoided. Unfortunately, NBC made the grevious mistake of showing footage of the accident. That was totally uncalled for and showed absolutely no respect for the family of the late luger. To me, it seemed like a cheap attempt at ratings by playing on the feelings of their viewers. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, and resulted in quite a large media backlash.

I really don’t watch luge all that much, but I do know that this incident rocked the sport right down to its foundation. It was a very insensitive move by NBC, and I would hope that there will be some punishment from the FCC, if not the IOC itself. It was insensitive, heartless, and had absolutely no place on TV or anywhere else. Even in a world of paparazzi and entertainment news out the wazoo, there should at least be some standard of integrity. It’s time to straighten up and fly right before no one trusts the media at all.


Running out of Time?

When NBC covered the Summer Olympics, it seemed like the coverage was endless. Granted, there are quite a few more events in the summer than in the winter, but that didn’t stop NBC from overanalyzing every single event until we actually begged for something else. What happened at the Winter Games? Four hours of event coverage and analysis at a time, and that was it. Then, you get four hours in the evening, which is usually dedicated to figure and speed skating with a slight bit of analysis.  Then you get the earlier events from two-to-five in the morning.

What’s wrong with this picture? You have an untold number of sportscasters, including gleaning some commentators from the news department, and not one of them can provide any further analysis? Even Cris Collinsworth, who looks so out of place, it’s not even funny? I would assume there has to be some sort of analysis that somebody can give to the subjects. This is where NBC really drops the ball. I’m interested in what these people have to say about these athletes, but so little time is given to them that it only allows for the most basic of analyses.


Where’re the Sports?

Another branch of the NBC tree, Universal Sports, was created solely for…well, sports. Usually providing sports appropriate for the season (including lacrosse and polo every now and then), it’s actually a pretty good station and one benefit of the mandated switch to digital TV. However, once the Olympics rolled around, what happened?

Universal Sports was turned into the outlet where the commentators could overanalyze everything…nothing but 24-hour analysis, with a couple hours of random sports from a bygone era (usually originally aired a couple of months before the Olympics and even including some Olympic Trials). Why couldn’t we have this channel show some of the hockey tournaments and other things (such as curling), being that it is a sports network? This is not a good use of NBC’s resources, and is a patently ridiculous way to push a virtually ignored (but not exactly bad) channel even further into the background.

NBC should be extremely ashamed with their coverage of this year’s Olympics for these four reasons and many, many others. The Olympics, especially the Winter version, are a showcase for athletes that play sports that are widely ignored. However, NBC drove this showcase of athletic prowess right into the ground, not only for ratings (that were all right at best), and it stunk because of it. Memo to NBC: you need to go back to the drawing board before the Winter Olympics is the laughingstock of all sporting events.

The fate of these athletes’ livelihood may depend on it.