Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I have such a BIG hangover today

Olympics Motel Sign_DONE
I have such a BIG hangover right now. No alcohol was involved. I'm dealing with Olympic Overload and withdrawal.

Every two years, I curl up on the couch, remote in hand, to watch as much Olympic coverage as I possibly can, including many events I probably wouldn't think about during most of the waking hours.

The first Games I remember watching were the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics. I can still remember the family sitting around the old Hitachi set as Olga Korbut flipped and flew around the gymnastic apparatus; and Mark Spitz giving new meaning to Aqua Man! And who can forget the big Soviet "coal miner" turned weightlifter Vasiliy Alekseyev, with his huge torso shaped like a beer barrel.

Unfortunately, I can also vaguely remember the horrific Munich Massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. Fortunately, I don't think I realized what was happening at the time since my parents were pretty good at shielding my sister and I from things like that.

1976 marked the first year I really had any say in whether I'd watch. I say that with tongue in cheek as the Winter Olympics took place in Austria! How could I not watch? My grandmother was born in Austria. I marveled at what I thought was the final Downhill run of the day as Franz Klammer flew down Patscherkofe to win Gold.

I guess I was too young to realize this was a big taste of tape delay and editing for evening Prime Time. We never saw all 74 competitors, including ones from such winter sports hotbeds as Iran and Turkey! ABC treated us to only the Top 15 ranked skiers. They tightly packaged it and I was happy to see what they allowed me to see.

By 1976 I was hooked. I can still remember the shiver when I found out Moscow would host the 1980 Games as my other grandmother was from Russia. For a while I actually posted a drawing of Moscow Olympic symbol with the number of days and the weather on our fridge. I can also remember the depression when I heard that the USA would boycott those Games due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and that NBC would not broadcast them either.

1980 was my first experience of an American Olympic Games, with the Winter Games in Lake Placid, NY. All I have to say is USA! USA! USA! and visions of the Miracle on Ice game probably pop into your head.

* * *

From that point forward, the television coverage expanded at an astonishing rate; from 54 hours in 1980 to over 5000 hours for the recent London, which included the first major use of the Internet to stream events that would otherwise not get televised.

Unfortunately, the hangover came, not only from the amount of hours I watched, but from frustration with NBC's coverage.

It is true that NBC had more live coverage than ever before, especially relying in the CNBC, MSNBC and NBCSN cable networks. However, it is also true that those of us not on the eastern seaboard were treated to tape delays of the supposed live events.

With the explosion of social media, there was a really good chance we'd find out about the results even before they were telecast. This lead one friend to tweet that "The Internet is ruining my Olympics!"

I started watching the internet live streams of the events  the first day. It was awesome! I watched as much archery in the first day as I'd watched in all my previous Olympic viewing COMBINED. There were no commercials; just a banner ad at the top of the browser.

On about the third day it changed. I was greeted with an ad for an upcoming Will Farrell movie. I wrote it off since I had just logged in. HOWEVER, it the same ad popped up about EVERY FIVE MINUTES.

The next day a Citibank ad with Meb Keflezighi droned on. I sent an angry tweet suggesting I'd seen him more with that hour's ads than I probably would during his actual event!

At this point, I started seeing people commenting about the BBC's coverage. No commercials, streaming of every event live, or available in their entirety shortly after completion; and what could be more fitting than British coverage of a British Olympics? I thought, "What's not to like about that? I'm in!"

Well, yes and no. You see, broadcast rights are sold on a national basis, and since I'm in the United States, the only feeds they want me to watch are those from NBC.

I loaded iPlayer and was greeted by a warning page telling me BBC video streaming is only available to residents of the United Kingdom.

When I had searched for iPlayer, I noticed ads proclaiming, "Watch the BBC Olympic Coverage from…anywhere."

Each Internet connection has what's called an IP address. You can think of this as your computer's address, which includes city, state and zip code of where your computer is connecting from. The BBC servers saw my California connection and said "No way, Jose!" 

Those ads were basically for companies offering proxy servers that would allow you to connect to them (for a price). Think of that as being a hotel room where your computer is taking a vacation. Once you connected to their proxy, your computer would then send out an IP address with a British location, and iPlayer would say, "Welcome!"

Coverage of every shot; every stroke, every step! Not just the top athletes, but those who only came to participate. It was INCREDIBLE…when it didn't crash. Unfortunately, it did fairly often. Sometimes it would recover, but more often I was rudely greeted with a message that the feed appeared to not be working, please try again later.

Additionally, if I should decide to watch the event from the beginning, the feed would arbitrarily end with no warning, and the message would say it should be available shortly. In all their British properness they were nice and tidy and ended "recording" the stream immediately upon end of of the event. At least NBC's recording continued for quite some time before ending the live feed.

Sometimes, when I restarted the feed, I'd inadvertently find out the results because they have chapter bookmarks at the bottom. I ruined several beach volleyball matches that way.

By the penultimate day, I had run out of time on the proxy server so I was back to watching NBC. In case you haven't heard, they butchered the Closing Ceremonies pretty badly, not to mention sticking a sitcom episode and the late local news in the end, which delayed the final 10 minutes of the program, the anticipated set from The Who. Makes ZERO sense, and they were taken to task in social media.

* * *

So what are my suggestions for NBC to win me back?

Offer ALL events streaming live online, including the ceremonies. Don't block the more popular events once they're complete so you can save them for Prime Time. Also, I'd be willing to see a banner at the top of the browser page at all times if it meant no commercial breaks that take away from the events. If you must have interruptions, will you please have someone watching the feed, and only insert ads at times when there's no action.

Assuming your cable lineup is still the same 500 days from now, continue portioning out coverage over multiple channels. This coverage should be live, with taped coverage of some events during Prime Time.

I cringe at the idea of tape delayed coverage, but NBC has to make money somehow, and Prime Time advertising is where the best money comes from. They don't have the luxury of the BBC, where all UK households must pay a TV License fee to watch live television.

It sounds funny to say you need a license to watch TV, but it's really nothing more than a tax to pay for public television, something the British have less of a problem doing. The fee is about $228.

Since British public broadcasting is done on a national scope, with only a half dozen channels, they can get away with it. This would never work in the US, with over 1200 stations across the nation, and public funding is a hot button issue.

NBC will need to recognize they need to ratchet back on how many commercials they run. With the World moving to more and more content being available by the web, it's far easier for viewers to turn to alternative methods to get what they want.

NBC will also need to reign in their announcers. Many are great. However, some try to be cute and say stuff that sounds dumb, like when Madagascar was described as an island where a group of movie animals come from, nothing more.

I'm eager to see if NBC takes public comment to heart. But, just in case, my computer is ready to book a vacation in the UK again.

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