Saturday, August 9, 2008

The difference between a sporting EVENT and a SPORTING event

If you've been reading my blogs and other writings over the last five years (or longer, should you happen to possess a first edition of the Eastport Enquirer from 1979), you know that I dislike tape-delayed sporting events, and I dislike Bob Costas. So you can imagine what the last few days have been like for me.

For the record, I have only watched about an hour of NBC's coverage of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Saturday morning, at about 6:00 am Pacific Daylight Time, I saw that NBC had Olympics coverage. I figured I'd see what they were televising. It turns out they were televising the Opening Ceremony, which had not only occurred about twenty-four hours earlier, but which NBC itself had already televised about nine hours before that. (Probably twelve hours earlier for those on the East Coast. On the West Coast, even our tape delayed events are tape delayed.)

The one hour that I saw confirmed everything that I don't like about tape-delayed sporting events and Bob Costas. Here are some excerpts from my FriendFeed venting:

As Lebanon marches by, NBC talks about the NBA players on the German team (next up).

NBC already had its storyline in place, and most of the world wasn't a part of it. Perhaps I'm looking at things through rose-colored glasses, but I suspect that Roone Arledge and Jim McKay would have spent some time letting us know about the Lebanese team as they marched by. But no, the Chief Peacock instructed good boy Costas to focus on basketball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. So the Lebanese entry into the stadium gave Costas and Matt Lauer the opportunity to talk about other stuff. Lebanon Schmebanon.

As Moldova walks by, they talk about China.

The only non-American story that I saw in the hour that I watched was the story about China. Because, you see, there was a big spectacle (I saw the guy suspended on wires holding the Olympic torch.) Perhaps "there was hardly a raised eyebrow" when Brian Eno wrote "China My China," but there were certainly some raised eyebrows Saturday morning or Friday night or Friday morning or whenever the opening ceremony actually took place. (I'll get back to this later.)

Monaco walks by and gets a Princess Grace mention.

In the hour that I saw, there was one exception to the rule that Olympic powerhouses are only to get a one-sentence acknowledgement. Monaco got several sentences, but they had to do with Princess Grace and rich people. One would think that Princess Anne of the United Kingdom would be the only royalty mentioned during the Olympics. One would think wrong.

But Bob Costas did do one thing that made me wonder whether space aliens had invaded his body. He actually used the word "protests" when talking about the Olympic torch. For Costas, that's edgy.

So by 7:00 Saturday morning I was sitting around, thoroughly disgusted with the whole affair. But my opinion was not, to put it mildly, shared by all. I happened to see Maryam Scoble's remarks in my FriendFeed:

Amazing Olympic ceremonies by the Chinese. Thank you NBC for such a great coverage too! What a lovely evening to watch this with my family.

And Maryam wasn't the only person who was watching. Yahoo/AP:

The colorful Olympics opening night ceremony from Beijing on NBC averaged 34.2 million viewers, making it the biggest television event since the Super Bowl.

It was the biggest audience ever for an Olympic opening ceremony not held in the U.S., and even eclipsed this year’s Academy Awards and finale of “American Idol,” Nielsen Media Research said on Saturday.

The article then went on to quote Dick Ebersol - a Roone Arledge protege, by the way - who was absolutely elated.

Warner Crocker at Life On the Wicked Stage continued the thought:

Apparently NBC had the highest ratings of a non-US Olympic rating in history. Given that coverage of the opening ceremonies had been on the Internet all day long with time zone differences, I wonder if this will change any old media minds about how media availability on the Internet can and will affect things in the future?

Crocker then linked to a New York Times article that stated what NBC was doing to restrict that same media availability:

NBC’s decision to delay broadcasting the opening ceremonies by 12 hours sent people across the country to their computers to poke holes in NBC’s technological wall — by finding newsfeeds on foreign broadcasters’ Web sites and by watching clips of the ceremonies on YouTube and other sites.

In response, NBC sent frantic requests to Web sites, asking them to take down the illicit clips and restrict authorized video to host countries. As the four-hour ceremony progressed, a game of digital whack-a-mole took place. Network executives tried to regulate leaks on the Web and shut down unauthorized video, while viewers deftly traded new links on blogs and on the Twitter site, redirecting one another to coverage from, say, Germany, or a site with a grainy Spanish-language video stream.

As the first Summer Games of the broadband age commenced in China, old network habits have never seemed so archaic — or so irrelevant.

So the overwhelming conclusion, supported by facts, is that tape-delayed airings of sporting events work.

Not so fast!

As you noted in the title of this post, there is a difference between a sporting EVENT and a SPORTING event. The opening ceremony was an example of the former. The shooting competition won by Katerina Emmons was an example of the latter.

There is one clear difference between the sporting EVENT and the SPORTING event.

The Olympic opening ceremony had an outcome that was known in advance. Well, most of the billions of people in the world didn't know all of the specifics of the outcome, but there were people who did. And even those of us who didn't know the details knew the general outline - there would be a show, the athletes would march in by country, and the torch would be lit. You didn't have bookies in Las Vegas or London taking bets on whether the torch would be lit or not.

A true sporting competition, however, whether it's a shooting competition a soccer game, a horse race, or whatever, does not have a known outcome. When the game begins, you may think that you'll know who wins, but you don't know who will win. Just ask the New England Patriots.

So while it's OK for NBC to show a parade a day late, what is the point in showing a competition a day late, when everyone already knows who won the competition?

Try as they might, even the mighty NBC can't suppress the medal count.

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