NBC spent about $1.2 billion for the rights to air this summer’s Olympics. So far, they have a lot of unhappy viewers to show for it.
Fans are blasting NBC for its delayed, US-centric, and out-of-touch coverage of the games in Rio. The network is being ridiculed for its disproportionate focus on sports such as swimming and gymnastics, overt focus on American success stories, and occasionally sexist comments from announcers and analysts. On NBC’s Olympics page on Facebook, viewers are calling it “terrible” and the “worst Olympics coverage I’ve ever seen.”
Live coverage of the Olympics, by contrast, takes place hours earlier and has been praised as cleaner, easier to follow, and more representative of the event as a whole.
Much of the frustration with NBC comes from its tendency to treat the Olympics as a glorified soap opera. John Miller, chief marketing officer at NBC Olympics, has been widely criticized for describing the games along these lines shortly before they commenced, in comments that many perceived as sexist.
“The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans,” Miller said. “More women watch the Games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey.” He added: “It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and mini-series wrapped into one.”
In other major blunders, NBC gymnastics announcer Al Trautwig suggested last Sunday (Aug. 6) that gold medalist Simon Biles’ adoptive parents were not her real parents. Trautwig apologized the following day. That same weekend, after Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu set a world record in the women’s 400-meter individual medley, NBC sportscaster Dan Hicks said Hosszu’s husband and coach, Shane Tusup, was “responsible” for her success.
It’s too soon to say whether NBC’s coverage will hurt its viewing numbers. That said, if the opening ceremony is any proxy, the Rio games are drawing less interest than their summer predecessors in London and Beijing. Just 30 million people tuned in for NBC’s prime-time airing of the opening ceremony, a 26% drop from the nearly 41 million who watched that event in London in 2012.
The network also angered viewers by cramming eight commercials into the first 65 minutes of its opening ceremony broadcast.
Perhaps in 2016, the “ultimate reality show” approach is no longer resonating.