NBC's Worst Sins This Olympics

Townhall’s Cortney O’Brien and Christine Rousselle here, and we have a bone to pick with the way NBC has handled broadcasting the Summer Olympics. Here are a few of our biggest gripes:

1. Airing gymnastics at midnight

In London, it was slightly understandable that things were going to be tape delayed. London time is several hours ahead of EDT. In Rio, it’s a different story: they’re only one hour ahead of the east coast. The gymnastics events were scheduled at 3:00 p.m. EDT, which, while not ideal, is a reasonable time to air a sporting event live.

Instead, NBC made users who wanted to see a sporting event as it actually happened watch it on its glitchy livestream options or on devices like an Apple TV. My (Christine) feed managed to cut out not once, but twice, during the floor routines in the team final. Thankfully, I anticipated this happening and had another backup stream going on my computer that was about 30 seconds behind the Apple TV feed, but this wouldn’t have been an issue if it had just aired on TV as it happened.

The actual events aired during “primetime” coverage, which stretches from 8 p.m. until midnight, with the event concluding closer to midnight even though the actual medals had been distributed hours before and the results had been thoroughly blasted on social media. Given that a large chunk of the target audiences are young girls who look up to The Final Five et al, the decision to broadcast the gold medal moments way past bedtime was certainly a questionable one.

2. Reporting on Lochtegate instead of showing a medal match live

It was Kerri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross’ last shot at a medal. After their shock semifinal loss they were out to redeem themselves in the bronze medal showdown. It was a super-anticipated game. They were facing the number one team in the world – the Brazilian duo of Larissa and Talita. I (Cortney), like millions of other Americans who were tuned to NBC, couldn’t wait to cheer on Walsh-Jennings and Ross in what may be their last Olympic game.

Yet, all Bob Costas wanted to talk about was Ryan Lochte.

For nearly a half hour, he and Matt Lauer provided intrinsic details about Lochte’s “robbery” story and every possible update on the fate of the other swimmers involved. Then, when they were finished with Lochte, the network switched to showing diving preliminaries that had happened earlier in the day.

No offense to diving, but how does this take precedence over a live medal match?

What made this programming decision especially odd was that all week prior to Wednesday NBC had shown the Team USA beach volleyball matches live. Yet, when it came to the match which was actually being played for a medal, they passed.

Finally, around midnight, on the match came – already into the second set. The only thing that afforded me some solace was Team USA’s incredible comeback. Congrats Kerri and April!

3. Strange programming decisions even with tape delay

I (Christine) will admit that I’m a certifiable gymnastics nut. I will also admit that most people living in the U.S. only care about seeing the American gymnasts compete. This being said, I don’t understand why NBC decided to show Russian gymnasts falling all over the place when there were actual live events and medal ceremonies happening in other sports. If the network had already committed to showing things on delay, what’s the point of stretching out coverage even later?

Further, I thought it was really disrespectful for NBC to wait until 1AM to air anything from the men’s artistic gymnastics team final. While the U.S. finished a disappointing fifth place, it doesn’t mean that the highlights from their performances don’t deserve to be seen. It should have been aired live as it happened, or at least given a mention during the primetime coverage–not completely ignored.

4. Lack of variety

One of my favorite parts about the Olympics is that we get to witness sports we’d never watch otherwise. Fencing? Cool! Ping pong? Yes please! Field hockey? Sure! Yet, these sports never have a chance of making it to prime time.

This, for me (Cortney), has been my qualm with NBC’s Olympic coverage long before Rio. The cameras pivot back and forth from the pool, the track, or the gymnastics floor. While I understand these are the most popular events (believe me, they’re my favorite too), I think NBC needs to be reminded that there are more than swimmers and runners on our 555-athlete strong Team USA. They worked their butts off for years to compete for our country. Give them some air time–especially during their medal rounds. I’d rather watch the finals in badminton than watch another hour of synchronized diving preliminaries.

Also, holy Hannah, the commercials. I (Christine) understand that there are limited sponsors who are allowed to advertise during the Olympics, but I think the McDonald’s commercial with “Time After Time” playing has been permanently burnt into my retinas. The same is true of the Liberty Mutual commercial featuring Kayla Harrison talking about how Liberty Mutual insures both physical medals and “medals” like children and cars. Please, mix things up.

5. Too much fluff programming 

We enjoy a good sob story and inspiring underdogs as much as the next person…but NBC’s reliance on puff pieces about literally everything from athletes to the city of Rio are just too much, especially when there’s limited programming hours. Just stop talking, show the dang sports, and tell me who wins.

6. Telling U.S. runner Paul Chelimo he had been disqualified live on TV.

This one is self-explanatory. It’s not nice to tell an Olympian he’s going to be stripped of his silver medal live on television. Yet, that didn’t stop an NBC correspondent Lewis Johnson from breaking the bad news to U.S. runner Paul Chelimo after the 5,000m final Saturday night.

Not cool. Thankfully, Chelimo was eventually reinstated.

7. No sign of anything better come Pyeongchang and Tokyo 

The next Winter Olympics are in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and the next Summer Olympics are in Tokyo. These cities are both 13 hours ahead of EDT. When the Olympics were in Beijing, the schedule for some sports was simply flip-flopped–events that usually happened at night happened in the morning, and vice-versa. This was hugely controversial, and it was argued that American televisions shouldn’t dictate the schedule of sporting events. Given that NBC’s viewership is down for the first time since 2000, the network may not have the same pull it did back in 2008. The tape delays in London were very unpopular, yet the network continued with them for Rio anyhow.

The sports media world has changed–people have the means of finding out the results of events as they happen via the internet. NBC has to adjust to this reality if it wants to be successful.