In defending NBC’s decision to tape-delay certain marquee Olympic events, such as yesterday’s men’s downhill, Chris McCloskey, the network’s vice president of sports communications, referenced the Miracle on Ice, the United States’ storied win over the USSR hockey team in 1980.
That too, was on tape delay, much like many other Olympic results since then, whether they have been on ABC, CBS, or the roundly criticized NBC for its handling of the Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Still, that was 30 years ago, a period when avoiding Olympic results during the daytime meant little more than not picking up the rotary phone or making sure the rabbit ears went a little haywire during the evening news.
Yesterday, even @NBCOlympics tweeted that Bode Miller had taken bronze in the downhill, seconds after it had happened.
“We’re not trying to hide anything,” said McCloskey, pointing out that NBCOlympics.com also posts real-time results of Olympic events, even if they are tape-delayed for prime time television purposes.
According to McCloskey, NBC will deliver more live coverage during the Vancouver Olympics than any other Winter Games before them across its family of networks. Figure skating will be live every night in addition to hockey games, curling matches, and freestyle skiing events.
“Yet, we still can’t make everybody happy,” he said.
That certainly includes fans of Alpine racing, who won’t see any of those events live on the network this month.
“Alpine skiing is probably the sexiest sport that we tape,” McCloskey said. “No doubt about it.”
The reason for the delay, obviously, is to maximize ratings during prime time. And so, ski racing fans were forced to seek alternative avenues to catch yesterday afternoon’s race live, including web feeds from overseas, a practice McCloskey described as pirating thanks to IOC rights protections.
But really, that’s not even the worst of NBC’s spliced and diced downhill coverage last night, when viewers actually saw more of Mary Carillo’s polar bears than they did skiers.
“You can’t please everybody, but we try to serve the greater good,” McCloskey said, pointing out that he received a call from a viewer who requested the network only carry the figure skating competition. Wait, they don’t already?
“It is the Olympic Games, it’s not just one event.”
As if to support NBC’s decision, McCloskey said 26 million viewers tuned into last night’s coverage, which included Maine’s Seth Wescott defending his Olympic gold medal in snowboardcross. Even more stunning, McCloskey said that the highest ratings NBC has seen have been in the Pacific and Mountain time zones, where all Olympic coverage has been on tape delay.
Tomorrow’s women’s downhill begins at 2 p.m. (8 p.m. PST- Peacock Standard Time). We can’t definitively say how many polar bears might be on hand.