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#NBCFail: A Post-mortem

During the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games, viewers in the United States quickly became frustrated with the company given exclusive U.S. broadcasting rights to the games and used the hashtag #NBCFail to express their frustration on Twitter. They were frustrated with their “shoddy streaming experiences, editorial mistakes and — most of all — NBC’s preference for obfuscating footage of major Olympic events until airing tape-delayed primetime broadcasts stateside.

There were tape delays of sometimes up to twelve hours and people were so frustrated with NBC offering poor-quality live-streaming of the events only to those who pay for cable TV service that they used anti-internet censorship technology in order to connect with non-U.S. streams.

As Heidi Moore of the Guardian reports,

“Prominent, media-savvy journalists, academics and viewers have spread the word to each other to use VPN technology and proxy services like TunnelBear and StreamVia to scramble our computer’s addresses into ones that can access the BBC iPlayer, where 24 soothing streams of well-organized, brightly narrated, clever Olympics coverage await us.”

However, it wasn’t just about the tape delay, but “the determined refusal of NBC to acknowledge that some viewers might want live coverage“, poor narration of some events, and even insulting viewer intelligence.

Other failures by the company include cutting out a memorial to the victims of terrorism from the live broadcast, a spoiler of Missy Franklin’s gold medal win, and getting Twitter to suspend the Twitter account of a journalist critical of the coverage, and delaying broadcast of Usain Bolt’s gold medal win until four hours after it happens in the name of protecting their financial investment.

Jim Bell, who produced NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, defended his decision:

This is one thing you watch together. And if you kind of end up giving it away on TV you’re not protecting your investment and you’re not serving the audience and you’re not serving the affiliates and you’re not serving the advertisers.”

In the end I’d have to agree with the critics and say that NBC failed to live up to its viewers expectations. However, this time NBC seemed to be more focused on the bottom-line and didn’t care that people were upset at being forced to watch delayed broadcasts on TV because they served their advertisers by playing the most popular events in primetime. However, the media world is changing so quickly that by the next Olympics people may have lost their patience and technology will easily allow them to boycott NBC coverage in favor of foreign broadcasts to get their Olympics coverage. NBC isn’t alone in having to change their business model to face these changes. Many companies are having trouble monetizing online content enough to defray production costs. Let’s all hope someone finds a solution because to see coverage of these events, somebody has to pay.

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