NBC #Fail

Choking the Olympic spirit for profit.

I’m violating my first rule. I’m writing angry. But…

I love the olympics. I love sport. And the olympics, still, despite it all, seem to me an incredible distillation of sport’s dedication, intensity, joy, humanity, and drama. Whether it’s the higher order game theory playing out in the biking peloton, the slowly evolving drama of the marathon, the sheer primal athleticism of weighlifting, or the H2O-immersed VO2max test that is the 400m individual medley, I just can’t get enough of it.

But NBC insists on forcibly reminding me at every turn that the Games are also something else. Like college football players, the athletes are mere “content” in a much bigger game. In this case what amounts to a two week utopian experiment in Nationalist Corporatism. A frenzy of metal counts, extractive economics and mind numbing cultural absurdity – where countries are reduced during their introduction to an association with their biggest historical monster.

But you had to wait to hear it because Costa’s idiotic commentary was held on tape until NBC’s $1B worth of sponsors were ready for you to see it: PrimeMonetizationTime. So, a giant fence surrounds the proceedings, put there by the IOC, NBC, and Akamai, where even tweets are controlled and the biggest event on the planet is dribbled out in a maddening temporal shift. But even then we had to endure systematic editing to make sure no one in the Kingdom of TeaMerica might be offended by anything, or bored. It doesn’t have to be this way. This was such a lost opportunity to make it great.

I still haven’t seen the opening ceremony from Beijing (same reasons, same perp), and I missed the one last night too. Well, I didn’t miss it exactly. When my tweet stream started lighting up late yesterday afternoon with visions of giant babies and Voldemort and flying bicycles and all the other British trippiness I ran to my TV. Work can wait, I want to see this! But I was blocked at every turn. Like an Iranian dissident I finally managed via a secret proxy to get a glimpse. But it lasted only a moment before some well-compensated gatekeeper sussed it out and blocked my subversive stream. I couldn’t deal with the asymmetry of the commentary without the thing, so I just shut down Twitter.

Did you know that the in order to use the official iPhone and iPad apps from NBC to live stream events you have to subscribe to a particular set of cable companies, and furthermore you have to be subscribed to a short list of pay channels? The web is no more an open network. It has been reduced (and diminished) to mere media pipe that connects (only) to your monopoly owned app – It’s like the AT&T of old. And if that pipe doesn’t go to your TV, it also won’t go to your computer, tablet, or phone. That’s a fascinating take on net neutrality isn’t it? We’ll happily use other people’s networks to deliver content to our “roaming” subscribers, but we demand to be able to charge when those dastardly web companies deliver their stuff on our pipes.

Anyway, here’s the thing. I would happily pay $50 to access those streams for two weeks, assuming they were done well. But I’m not going to switch to Comcast from my current provider to get it. And it’s absolutely idiotic for Comcast/NBC to think I would. The Olympics last for two weeks, but that behemoth’s crap service is forever.

These guys run their media empire the way Chavez runs Venezuelan power companies. Provide crappy service and limit innovation but keep the cash coming to what is essentially an IoC chartered royal monopoly. They could make it great for everyone, an amazingly wonderful experience, but then they would have to worry about what creative destruction might do to their current benefactors.

But what if they thought about it differently? What might an open minded approach to the Olympic experience look like? If a well worn butt print in front of Comcast’s primetime-plasma-portal wasn’t a pre-req to the enjoyment of sport?

Instead of subverting the web, use it! Make the “Olympic Movement” a movement by creating a web of content and connections – stop trying to confine new media into the old one-to-many transmission model. Make every event available in real time to anyone with a web browser while making advertising possible (and viable) for a much wider range of companies. Sell apps that add context, content, and commentary around the events. Make it easy for fans that are in attendance to add their own content about the experience whether through specific apps written for the games or existing networks like Twitter. Design for a great multi-screen experience that makes the butt print model worth it. Partner with streaming services like Netflix to multiplex NBC’s single channel into as many as it takes to bring any event you might want to see to your television if that’s where you want to view it. Hell, I don’t know, I’ve only been thinking about this for five minutes and I already know I could create a hundred times better experience than these guys have.

Why am I so angry about this? I guess it’s because of a collision of value systems. The values implied by elite sport – intensity, commitment, integrity – are things worth emulating and when they are cast in contrast with the extractive, closed, corporatist, reactive values of the IoC and NBC the collision is just too much, at least for me. Such a massive fail.

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  • xine

    You are not alone in your anger, my friend. We don’t subscribe to cable because we are trying to save money. So I have to wait to see edited videos and slideshows. WTF? THIS IS A WORLD WIDE EVENT, NBC. What an incredible failure on their part. They provide videos and show a ton of ads–I’d be okay with that, but no, I have to be a subscriber??

    We’re not poor. Just frugal. I’m sorry for all the poor people who don’t get to see such a cool INTERNATIONAL event like the Olympics except in random bits and pieces.

  • Bradjcox

    Get with the program Jim. Take your meds, tune in, watch the nice ads, and buy, buy, buy.

    May as well get used to it. What they did to TV will soon reach the internet too.

    • Jim

      I have been forgetting to bring my pill box with me…

  • http://bleacherreport.com/users/535519-nick-p nick price

    The IOC should cut losses, call NBC in breach of contract and award Olympic exclusivity in the US to ESPN.

  • http://twitter.com/thorneny Nicholas Thorne

    Don’t IOC and USOC share the blame here too? They sell the rights to the highest bidder thereby forcing the hand of whoever wins to solve for maximum revenue. I don’t blame NBC for trying to recoup the fees it had to pay. And no other US provider is going to provide access without same set of strings attached.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Albert-Torcaso/666563595 Albert Torcaso

    I agree with Jim, as for the comment may as well get used to it what they did to TV will soon reach the internet too. No, it won’t if all of us grow a brain and fight back by boycotting companies that do this if we need to boycott NBC then do it and look for the events on YouTube in a day or a few weeks sure, you won’t see up to the minute, but you just might stop the corporate take over of our live both offline and online. Legally , financially, peacefully fight back!
    Albert

  • http://franklinchen.com/ Franklin Chen

    NBC is just one of many reasons I stopped watching the Olympics. http://franklinchen.com/blog/2012/07/27/why-i-do-not-watch-the-olympics-any-more/

  • Jeremy

    Wait, the Olympics are on …

  • http://twitter.com/ujac twit

    I do not receive ESPN or any paid tv. Why does not NBC show embed commercials by (Country/Region-URL/SubUrl) in a corner (dimming live event audio) at realtime. Co.s get their ads, (repeated even), everyone gets free broadcast when wanted. Sorry rich, you can’t have pre-paid for “commercial-free” broadcasts as they would be instantaneously fed to non-subscribers by hackers. As it said in opening ceremonies: “This is for everyone”. So let go of the private-pay media pipe!

  • http://meloncholy.com/ Andrew

    You seem to be under the impression that you are a citizen, not a consumer, and that you have rights in addition to a wallet.

    The thing that really bugs me is that it’s so unnecessary. The Olympic ideals are very worthy, and there are a lot of great events with great athletes to watch, but the whole thing is so tainted by big business and corporate greed that I want little to do with it.

    I’m ashamed that it is illegal for a UK business to express support for local athletes unless they are an official sponsor. I’m ashamed of the Olympic ZIL lanes now criss-crossing London. I’m ashamed that the police protecting people at events were initially told to decant their lunchtime crisps into clear plastic bags because they weren’t made by an official sponsor.

    Of course I’m cherrypicking here, but I shouldn’t be able to come up with examples like this at all. The IOC and their host governments seem to believe they must do everything they can to protect and promote their corporate sponsors. All too often this means controlling the public. It means you in the US have crappy TV coverage while I get live (and on demand), ad free streams of the principal events courtesy of the BBC. It means it’s impossible to buy chips without fish inside the Olympic park if the chips aren’t made by McDonald’s.

    Thanks to Twitter, Netflix, Hulu, iPlayer, etc. (and indeed fish and chips shops) we know there are better ways to do this. You need to cede a little control and give people what they want, when they want it, the way they want it. I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to pay. Continuing this way just devalues the Olympics and the brands associated with it.

    Thanks; I feel better now. :)

    • Jim

      I was angry before I read your comment. Now I’m depressed.

  • Butch Laroo

    I physically went to Atlanta and Park City. Then watched post event coverage, there’s no comparison. I won’t watch any coverage anymore, Costa’s fill and the ridiculous side stories are a waste of time.

  • Mike

    Growing up in the 70s and 80s I loved the Olympics, but then they started forbidding select groups from even using the word Olympics, like the LGBT community, then they really started with the corporate sponsorship madness, and the United States television networks started with the idiotic non-stop commentary during every broadcast and interrupting every 60 seconds with commercials. At one time I would have gladly paid to see a feed without commentary, and without ads. Now I haven’t seen any Olympic coverage in years, and, while I do miss the Olympics that I used to know, those games are long gone, and I wouldn’t pay a dime to support them as they are now. The Olympics aren’t about sport bridging the gaps between nations anymore, but about corporations building walls to keep us all out.

  • Max

    Kind of makes me glad for the bbc . streaming 24 +3 channels in hd sd on freesat – 5 on terrestrial .some deliberately without commentary. plus the video content through bbc iplayer . bliss. and without filtering out sports that we brits don’t have a chance of winning. There are fears that the UK coverage of future Olympics will go to for example sky and thus be pay to view

  • Lajolla44

    We here in Seattle are still smarting from the NBC coverage in Vancouver when the Olympics were right up the street we had to wait til prime time or 3 hour delay to see results. What I resent is NBC telling me what and when I can watch the Olympics.

  • ehjxgcth

    I can’t say I’m happy about the Olympics for all of these reasons cited here, but this is the price of ad-supported content. The problem is that there’s no other real choice for funding the games because the “open web” people have always equated “open web” with absolutely free. The only way we can pay for content on the open web is to look at ads.

    The problem is that the wide open Internet never developed a set of tools to funnel payment to the content creators in exchange for content. The only solution has to put your content up for free and hope you can monetize the eyeballs with some low-rent ads. In this case, the cable companies jury-rigged some cruddy system together to cope with it.

    The real enemies of the open web are the search engine companies who insist that everything must be free so they can put their ads next to it. They’ll fund pro-pirate sites and anything to destabilize

    • Jim

      I’m not suggesting it has to be all free and ad supported. I say right in the piece that I’d happily pay $50 for a great multi-device experience. The idea that I have to be a current cable subscriber with some “advanced package” is just absurdly regressive, and to me is a massive lost opportunity to do something great and would make more money.

      • ehjxgcth

        Yup, I would too. But I think they think that they’re going to get you to switch to a cable Internet provider and so that’s how they’ll monetize it.

        IF we want the Internet to remain open, we need open ways for people to monetize content. The more the open folks insist that everything remains free and easy — easy for search engines to monetize– the more that closed gardens like the AppStore and NBCOlympics will get the best content.

        • Jim

          I agree. Mostly. The search engine bit seems orthogonal.

  • Tedwilson23456

    Why restrict a world event from viewing online… oh because there is going to be a terrorist attack after all. And that will make it easier to make the videos disappear

  • http://twitter.com/keithpp Keith Parkins

    For viewers in the UK, Olympic opening ceremony was free to watch on BBC, But we had to have innate chat from BBC presenters over the top, who seemed determined to ruin the show, and that was to stick two fingers up to Danny Boyle as he had specifically asked them not to talk over the show.

    http://keithpp.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/london-2012-opening-ceremony/

    Admittedly it was not as bad as the low quality video Michael Moore posted.

    But it gets worse, much worse ….

    NBC edited out the tribute to the victims of 7/7 – to do so was offensive. Pause and reflect for a moment and think if the BBC had edited out tributes to victims of 9/11 all hell would break loose.

    Prior to the opening ceremony, there was little support for the London 2012 Olympic Games due to the all pervasive stench of corporate sponsorship.

    http://keithpp.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/whose-games/

    We are now seeing vast swathes of empty seats because the corporate sponsors have been allocated tickets for all the best seats.

    http://keithpp.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/vast-swathes-of-empty-seats/

    The corporate sponsors may be calling all the shots but they are not the majority sponsors, the public are and yet it is the public who are getting screwed.

    We have to kick out the corporate sponsors and stop the IOC gravy train. Get back to sport being for those who wish to watch and enjoy sport.

    • Jim

      “NBC edited out the tribute to the victims of 7/7 – to do so was offensive. Pause and reflect for a moment and think if the BBC had edited out tributes to victims of 9/11 all hell would break loose.” Excellent point.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Keisha-Jackson/100002981815371 Keisha Jackson

    “Kingdom of TeaMerica” at NBC? SERIOUSLY?

    Note to the hopenetized lib who wrote this whiny rant: NBC hates the Tea Party and loves Obama’s Marxist agenda every bit as much as you do.

    There is no bigger corrupt media establishment (with all due respect to Al Jazeera) than NBC. You can point the finger at them for a lot of bias and bogus reporting… but a statement like “Kingdom of TeaMerica” at NBC is just a parade of ignorance.

    • Jim

      You forgot to add “tard” but in fairness, I was wrong when I wrote this. I was reacting to the reports that NBC had removed the brief girl-girl kiss. It turns out they didn’t. So I appreciate the opportunity to correct the record.

      http://www.slate.com/blogs/five_ring_circus/2012/07/28/lesbian_kiss_opening_ceremony_why_danny_boyle_featured_a_scene_from_the_british_soap_brookside_.html

      However, I stand by the “bored” part. Shameful they would remove the piece dedicated to victims of terrorism to show a lame interview with Michael Phelps.

      Btw, your angry response here is exactly the kind of Kingdom of TeaMerica reaction I’m referring to. It’s all too easy to imagine a network cutting a bit of “objectionable” material rather than see their phones light up with people lining up to call them Marxist, libs, or whatever. I’ve been called a lot of things, but this is a first for Marxist. Thanks for the belly laugh.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Keisha-Jackson/100002981815371 Keisha Jackson

        You’re very welcome. And thank YOU for providing your (typical) liberal “tolerance” of diverse options… well, at least when it comes to anything that shatters your little leftist world view. The hypocrisy is almost as comical as your “writing.”

  • http://calliopesounds.blogspot.com/ Andrew Gilmartin

    I actually did upgrade my Cox cable service so as to have the bandwidth and the necessary MSNBC and CNBC channels. I was angered then to discover, on the night of the opening ceremony, that I also needed Cox’s Advanced TV service. Why was I not told this when I updated the services?

    I too would have paid $50, or even $100, so that my family — especially my sons — could see the events streamed in realtime.

    • Jim

      Oh man, that’s a real bummer. I think one of the things that stirred me up so much was just having to try to decode all the complexity they have built into this mess. I just want to watch the Olympics!

  • Jeff

    I don’t think Comcast expected you to switch to their cable company. I have Comcast and it feels like an added perk of having their service, since they’re connected with NBC in this way. Though, I don’t care about the Olympics that much.

  • Jason

    Get over it. Those of us in the 90% of the world that isn’t the United States have had to put up with this since broadcast TV began. The rest of the world exists and isn’t in your timezone. The TV network that paid a billion for the rights couldn’t have done so if the ads in the broadcast were played at 3 the morning.

    • Jim

      You took time out of your day to tell me “it sucks for everyone, get used to it?” Ok. I’m over it.

      Btw, I probably wasn’t clear because I want NBC to make money helping people experience the Olympics in richer ways. I think they could make more if they did it better. And note, I said “experience” the Olympics, not “broadcast” the Olympics.

    • http://y42k.wordpress.com/ Ray C

      The 90% of the world that isn’t the US often gets coverage that’s live, discuses the event beyond how the local country’s entrants do, and provides more actual sports instead of commentary and touchy-feely crap. See, for example, Canada, which covers the same time zones as the US.

  • George

    Not having a TV/cable/etc., I too was very upset. For a $9 solution, read this:
    http://tinyurl.com/bppr4ot

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  • http://www.tink.ws/blog Tink

    I presume you guys are blocked from the BBC coverage due to being outside the UK?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/olympics/2012/

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  • Frank

    I guess you haven’t figured out that the US media is about as censored as China. Oh wait!! THat cannot be true. They tell you it is not censored and you live in the land of the free.

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  • Harry

    Big Brother is alive and well in the USA, only the name has changed

  • Feynman

    NBC paid $4.3 billion for the rights to the Olympics through 2020. It seems they are allowed to protect the rights of their content same as books, records, etc. Few us would want to go back to a “lesser product” than want NBC offers. You also hav eto appreciate their position that cable channels pay them for content…it is likely difficult for them to offer it free over the internet and not hurt the cable channels. I actually have enjoyed watching table tennis and other sports I would not have the chance for.

    • Jim

      You are right that the agreements with the cable companies are why they won’t unbundle streaming from a cable subscription. But I think “allowed to protect their content” is a massive oversimplification. The Olympics aren’t produced in some cavernous hall at Tea Cup Studios. They are a public “movement” that involves lots and lots of public Treasure around the world. Greece, for example, is still paying off the money they overspent on their Olympics.

      With that in mind, it’s not very hard to see the Olympics as a massive periodic wealth transfer from public coffers to public corporations via IoC content rights management.

      I want NBC to be successful. I have enjoyed watching weightlifting and other sports via their digital streaming. But I remain frustrated at the colossal loss of opportunity here. By fencing it in they artificially maintain their ability to extract rents from the properties they have purchased from the IoC, but I think they could make a better experience (and a more profitable one) if they completely re-thought how this works outside of the traditional “broadcaster” constraints.

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  • jjolla

    Your angst is intermixed with another past-technology: the Olympic Games themselves.

    When I was a kid I remember looking forward to gorging on two weeks of non-stop sport … outside of the Olympics there just wasnt enough sport on TV to satisfy a young man. Fast forward to this millenium, and there is so much alternative sport. In most cases it is far superior from all viewpoints, that it renders the Olympics .. boring.

    The IOC is holding onto a relic which is doomed anyway. Dont blame the TV providers .. fewer and fewer people in the western world give a damn about the games.

  • Stanley_Krute

    Hmmm. Yep, it’s an NBC Fail. But: the solution is quite simple. Funny that a piece on oreilly doesn’t mention it.

    1. Buy a VPN service for a month
    2. Place your computer, via that VPN, in the UK
    3. Watch the BBC’s wonderful commercial-free coverage online. Feed it to your TV if you want a larger screen than your monitor.

    I’m using VyprVPN. They’ve got a nice little app that handles all the setup details well. Takes about 15 minutes to set up. http://www.goldenfrog.com/vyprvpn

    Amusing that the same tech that lets folks within dictatorships communicate with the rest of the net lets us watch the Olympics.

    Memo to NBC: there’s this thing called the internet. And this other thing called VPN. Comin’ to getcha getcha getcha comin’ to getcha getcha getcha

    • Jim

      Yep. It’s true that fences can be climbed. The point wasn’t to explain how to climb the fence but to point out that fencing is a local optimum on the way to a global minimum.

      • Stanley_Krute

        Hi Jim

        > the point

        Understood. I just wanted to make sure folks knew of the easy route-around. That knowledge is not widely-known, although a tsunami of knowing is in the midst of breaking forth, prodded by NBC’s FAIL.

        > a local optimum on the way to a global minimum

        ??? Can you elaborate upon that ???

        Thanks for a fine article. Sometimes anger can be a v. useful catalytic fuel for clarifying thought and inspiration.

        – stan

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  • Flabbergastedvibes

    Stan, there is a free VPN service a lot of people are using just to do exactly that

    http://www.expatshield.com/

    No, I’m not affiliated with them in any way, a friend turned me on to it – seems to work great!

  • Janet – Royal Wootton Bassett

    As a British TV Licence holder, I was mercifully spared NBC’s coverage, but your blog QUOTE: “The web is no more an open network. It has been reduced (and diminished) to mere media pipe that connects (only) to your monopoly owned app” reminded me of one thing I heard about the Opening Ceremony – NBC’s narrators didn’t know who Tim Berners Lee was; even when his famous quote “This is for everyone” wrapped around the stadium. I’m told one of them suggested (without a trace of irony) Googling him. I did wonder, whilst watching my excellent coverage (sorry!) how the BBC managed to get access to America’s gold medalling swimmers immediately after they left the pool. The answer came from a BBC reporter: “I have to say thank you to NBC for giving us all the American swimmers first, as they’re not recording.” The mind boggles.