Final Thoughts On NBC's Coverage Of The 2008 Beijing Olympics

Monday, August 25, 2008


Journalists worldwide are giving their final opinions on the Games of the XXIX Olympiad and I thought I'd chime in as well. NBC's broadcast of the 2008 Beijing Games brought on varying emotions throughout the two weeks for everyone, both good and bad. People across the Country seemed to be both happy and mad at the network's coverage at various times throughout the two week span and my feelings probably don't differ from all of theirs all that much.

I personally enjoyed many aspects of the coverage and after bashing them, and NBC, for just about the whole Summer, I was certainly impressed at times with the end product. The majority of the announcers were very knowledgeable of the Sports they covered and every host and reporter appeared genuinely interested in the country of China and topics they covered. Cris Collinsworth said last night that these Games provided a great place for the World to forget about its problems for two weeks, and I couldn't agree more.

With that said, there were mulitple frustrating elements of NBC's programming that infuriated viewers in the U.S. and across the globe. In the States, everywhere but the East Coast suffered by not being able to see live events and even those in the East were "blacked out" of monumental and record breaking performances. Let's delve into this a bit more with the good, the bad and the ugly of the broadcast and then I'll give you some announcing winners and losers.
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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly:

The Good- Sheer Numbers and The FOBs

Given that these Games were across the World from us in Beijing, I think that NBC did an admirable job of getting at least some of the contests to us live (well at least for us East Coasters). I don't even remember watching the past two Summer Olympics (Athens and Australia) because barely any of the event were aired as they took place and the change this year was certainly welcomed. It obviously wasn't perfect, but for Gymnastics and Swimming at least they seemed to get it right. I personally thought that 3600 hours of coverage was an insane undertaking but for the most part, they pulled it off in the end.

Bob Costas and his FOB's were also a "good" for the Peacock during these Olympics. I truly enjoyed the excitement of Bela Karolyi and the heartfelt love for his Sport. Collinsworth and Carillo didn't really give us anything groundbreaking but both filled a lot of the downtime with at least somewhat interesting stories. Costas himself pulled no punches in delivering controversial pieces himself and his interview with George W. Bush was surprisingly eye-opening. I don't think anyone else has gotten more out of the Leader of the Free World in eight years.

Obviously numbers don't lie and through sixteen days of coverage over 211 million people tuned in. That makes the 2008 Summer Olympics on NBC, the most viewed event in U.S. television history. Even though there are no other programs considered "events" other than the Olympics within the ratings system (not even the Super Bowl), that's a heck of a lot of people.

The Bad- Online and Post Phelps Coverage

It's hard to find fault in a network that aired events live online for free and gave of us one of the most awesome performances we've ever seen, but I'm going to try. There are reports that NBC's online content only made a quarter of the ad revenue that March Madness did and that's pretty mind blowing given the number of people that signed in online. The network actually decided against airing certain events on the platform (I.E.- Usain Bolt) and in turn hurt the final product that it put out there for customers and even advertisers.

(Now my personal relationship with NBC Universal's Piracy Department aside) It was more than frustrating that they billed NBCOlympics.com as the go to site for every live event, when that certainly wasn't even close to being true. They also didn't even make their videos available for embedding and promotion on other sites (not just blogs). They seemingly ruined their chances at a big payday and record numbers online with that move alone.

As far as post-Phelps coverage, the absence of one individual illustrated exactly how he alone gave NBC the boost they needed in the ratings. After Phelps left the pool, NBC only surpassed the ratings of the Sydney Olympics on one night out of seven. The Games in total were 7% higher than those in 2000 and that percentage is all Phelps.

The Ugly: "Live Events"

I think we've beat this one into the ground but the live/delayed coverage across the country was reprehensible. I still don't understand how if Swimming and Gymnastics started at 10/11pm on the East Coast that they couldn't be aired live in West Coast primetime, but I'm not a TV exec. It's completely unrealistic to think that someone could go through an entire day/night and not hear or see a result. When you're also not airing the most important events live online just to save them for TV....you're going to piss a good number of people off.

There's absolutely no way they can do this again in London, but it wouldn't surprise me.
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Announcing Winners and Losers:

Winners-

Bob Costas (see above)
Ato Bolden (Track and Field)- Provided great insight to running events for a rookie
Bela Karyoli (FOB)- "BEAUTIFUL!!!!"
Dan Hicks (Swimming)- The call of the 4x100 Free Relay will be replayed for decades
Tim Ryan (Rowing and Canoeing)- A vet of the Games but continues to impress
Mike Breen (Basketball)- Solidifying himself as the second voice of the NBA after Marv.
Doug Collins (Basketball)- When not talking about himself, he's one of the best analysts out there (I still can't stand him though)
Bob Papa (Boxing)- Anybody who can work well with (and understand) Teddy Atlas is a winner in my book
Andrew Catalon (Handball)- I didn't know this until recently but Handball is exciting as hell. So are the announcers.
Bill Clement(Various)- He called events from Shooting to Table Tennis and was even sideline reporter for Badminton. He was solid throughout.
Kirch Kiraly (Beach Volleyball)- Exactly what an ex-athlete analyst should sound like covering his/her Sport.

Losers-

Cynthia Potter (Diving)- MSMers applauded her but I couldn't stand her. She was negativity personified and coming from me....that's saying something.
Rowdy Gaines (Swimming)- The Doug Collins of Swimming
Eric Collins (Baseball)- Just downright boring
Craig Sager (Basketball)- Outside of talking about Hooters the sideline reporter was dreadful. He ruined results from events for West Coasters and even said that if the U.S. beat Argentina they'd "play finalist China on Sunday".
Andrea Kremer (Swimming)- "How does it feel to win ______ swimming race?" was all she ever asked
Shane Hamman (Weightlifting)- Actual Quote: "What a huge amount of weight! We're talking a refrigerator, not just a regular refrigerator, but like a big one!"
Al Trautwig (Gymnastics)- Just terrible and the hyperbole was off the charts. He was even quoted as saying this at one point...."The Olympics begin with footprints in the sky." (Blech!)
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There you have it. Overall the Olympics were ultimately just what they've always been, a nice distraction. They come at the perfect time during the Sports Calendar, and some of the physical performances amaze you, but are you really starting the four year countdown right now? Didn't think so. Outside of the live event issues and not utilizing the Internet content correctly, the Games were a success for NBC because they made money.

In the end the bottom line is all that really matters. Who cares if they screw an entire half of the country, right? Right???

Posted by Awful Announcing- at 11:00 AM

32 Comments:

Hamman did weighlifting.

Anonymous said...
Aug 25, 2008, 11:33:00 AM  

No mention of Hicks totally botching the race before the 4x100 freestyle? He called the race for Katie Hoff, "Can Hoff hold on? Yes!..No!" and needed Rowdy Gaines to jump in.

You can't be a winner if you do things like that. I thought Gaines was great. His enthusiasm in the pool and the way he described Lezak drafting in that relay were really good.

rs27 said...
Aug 25, 2008, 11:43:00 AM  

I think the only beach volleyball I watched was the gold medal match, so my opinion is underdeveloped, but it was amazing how often Kiraly and his lead announcer talked about May-Treanor and Walsh being "the first team in Olympic beach volleyball history to win back-to-back gold medals." Guys, it's been around for FOUR Olympics. It's an interesting achievement, but one for which they should have supplied some perspective.

How many times did Rowdy Gaines call a race over with less than 50 meters to go, only to be proven wrong?

Was Trautwig the lead analyst for gymnastics or the color announcer? If it was the color guy, who I believe was a former gymnast, then I agree wholeheartedly with your placement. Nothing made that guy happy. Somebody probably should have reminded him that he was dealing with 16-20 year old girls at an amateur competition - you can be nice on occasion.

Karolyi was hilarious, even though I didn't understand a single word he said during the entire two weeks.

I wouldn't say I'm starting the countdown to London, but it is kinda sad to see the Olympics go. For two weeks, I could turn on the TV at any hour of the day, put it on NBC or UHD, and just watch some sport that I might not normally check out. Now, we're back to the same old crap that NBC and the other networks always push on us, reality programming and whatnot. That part is kinda depressing.

Aug 25, 2008, 11:45:00 AM  

Bill Clement is always good at whatever he does, and when you need protection against West Nile Virus, nothing beets the Deet in Deep Woods Off.

hollywood wags said...
Aug 25, 2008, 11:47:00 AM  

I think it's frustrating that NBC doesn't show live and then re-play at night. I think you're mistaken about people knowing the results during the day, however.. It seems that people our age are very connected to the internet and media, but the overwhelming majority of people have no idea (sports fans, different story, but most Olympics watchers aren't regular sports fans) and don't pay attention to such things during the day.

I do think it's stupid that NBC didn't show the things live to west coast, but some caveats.
1) IN 2002, NBC wanted to show things live to the Pacific coast, but NBC affiliates basically refused to do so, cutting into their local news shows and syndicated dinner hour shows. Blame the NBC affiliates IMO.

2) 82% of the country is in the Eastern/Central time zones (unbelievable, I know), so saying half the country did not get these events live is somewhat misleading, IMO.

Anonymous said...
Aug 25, 2008, 12:06:00 PM  

I couldn't agree more about Cynthia Potter and Al Trautwig. I would also throw Tim Daggett in with the losers. The negativity was largely overwhelming and unnecessary.

It absolutely killed me when Daggett would keep yapping during the routines, saying something like "Now keep watching right here. I saw him do this in the warm-ups and he's about to..." Yeah -- we're about to see it for ourselves! They constantly pointed out mistakes, which I understand that's part of it, but the way they did it was really jarring: "That was a mistake! He was supposed to go into a ..." I felt that negative tone kind of robbed some of the events from having the prestige of the Olympics.

Collin said...
Aug 25, 2008, 12:07:00 PM  

Ato Boldin was terrible. He blew it on the women's 400. The US girl obviously tweaked something down the stretch. She grimaced and her stride changed but neither announcer even noticed it. They then went so far as to basically call her a liar when she mentioned it in the post-race interview.

Chad said...
Aug 25, 2008, 12:21:00 PM  

You left out Mary Carillo. I know she was doing sidebar stuff on China but she is a great tennis announcer and she seems authentic. Love to listen to her and I appreciate her sincerity.

California Girl said...
Aug 25, 2008, 12:23:00 PM  

You probably don't watch soccer, but Marcelo Balboa is the worst analyst for the game.



Jim Kozimor and Steve Kearney for badminton were losers. What the heck is a butterfly with sore feet? And since when did we need to ask if there needs to be a specific temperature to play badminton?


NBC in general, lost me.


Remember those 10 sports that AA posted that would be covered from New York? They lied, I counted 14 of 34 events.



They all can't stop talking, and Mike Breen and Dan Hicks were the lone stars for me for announcing.



Costas ticked me off with asking Jacques Rogge about China's human rights. What's the need to do that? It's sports, not a time to bring in politics.


NBC gets an F-.

ssreporters said...
Aug 25, 2008, 12:39:00 PM  

RS27- Winner is an all-encompassing term. I didn't think he was that great overall but that one call will be the only thing people remember.

Collin- Good call on Daggett.

Chad- I remember seeing that go down, but it was more the analyst than those in the booth. In fact, Tom Hammond called out the reporter for it after the fact.

California Girl- Another good call.

SS Reporters- Ha, you obviously know my Soccer viewing habits. I did watch a good bit and JP Dec was on every game I saw.
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Good discussion everyone....keep it coming. It's okay to disagree.

Aug 25, 2008, 12:53:00 PM  

I agree with the Kiraly pick. A lot of people like to be snarky about beach volleyball, but it's an entertaining sport to watch when there's no commercial breaks and a good mix of pure power and good rallies.

I think what NBC will have to answer for is not wanting something to air in the morning and in the evening. The 100 meters that Bolt one could have run live (one of the basketball games preempted it), then buzz builds throughout the day and you play it again. Sure, they can't anticipate greatness, but it's the 100! SportsCenter can't use the highlights, so you're going to get the appointment viewing either way.

Hank said...
Aug 25, 2008, 1:11:00 PM  

AA I agree with your assessments with the exception of Hicks who I like for the most part on golf. His call of the 4 x 100 will go down as one of the most annoying in history. It was loud and ridicules. He also screwed up Hoff as well. He was awful. He should be replaced with Teddy Atlas who explained everything impeccably in boxing.

I believe the stars of the Olympics were
1) Ato Bolden, who explained everything clearly and pulled no punches when talking about U.S. failures.
2) Bob Costas who had a better interview with Bush then any other broadcaster in his eight years and I think it caught the President off guard.
3) Tom Hammond and Mike Breen just seem consistently good no matter what they do.

Chad there was nothing wrong with Sonya Richards. Why did she run the anchor leg in the relay then? She choked and there was nothing wrong with Bolden saying it.

The biggest failure was by far NBC not carrying the men's indoor volleyball final live. With the magnitude of everything at stake from the fact the gold medal was up for grabs, to this team not even being expected to make the medal round, to most importantly what coach Hugh McCutchen (sic?) has been through. It was must see TV and NBC waited 20 HOURS to show it. That is simply shameful. Thank God for the CBC who covered it live. They usually ended their coverage at 1:00am eastern but not this time because they knew what the storyline was.

steve said...
Aug 25, 2008, 1:17:00 PM  

No mention of Tom Hammond? I thought he was, as usual, very good at calling events. He's easy to listen to and he seems to work well with pretty much anyone.

Buzz said...
Aug 25, 2008, 1:20:00 PM  

NBC still has an old-school view of the world where they value their sponsors more than they value their viewers. I woke up halfway through the Wimbledon final and thought I was watching a tape delay because every other event was maddeningly delayed 3 hours for the West Coast to view. God forbid we miss the Today Show, society will collapse.

Let's not even forget the strong arm tactics NBC used to keep us from watching the track and field events until 20 hours after the event kicked off. I searched on Eurofeeds or the CBC but ultimately gave up. Hard to get ramped up for Usain Bolt when we've heard the results from Deadspin and AA beforehand.

I'll crap on ESPN for their talking heads, but I'll give them this: They actually show their big sports live.

Bears Necessity said...
Aug 25, 2008, 1:25:00 PM  

The diving girl was annoying

Kige Ramsey said...
Aug 25, 2008, 2:12:00 PM  

Tom Hammond is money. I thought Costas v Bush was electric and thought The Prez was very insightful, honest and firm that just because we want idealogical change we can't expect it to happen. Good for both.
Ted Robinson, I think, is as underrated as there is. Solid work for him.
Dan Hicks just bothers me.
Al Trautwig needs to write for the West Wing. Over the top.
Overall, I will put up with 2 weeks of miscellaneous competition versus watching any TV shows.

Anonymous said...
Aug 25, 2008, 2:49:00 PM  

What about Andrea Joyce making everyones, especially my, favorite gymnast Alicia Sacramone cry. Not cool.

mmmm beefy said...
Aug 25, 2008, 2:49:00 PM  

Ato Bolden was awful. Everything that happened was the MOST IMPORTANT EVENT IN THE ENTIRETY OF THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD!

That hyperbolic crap gets on my last nerve.

JFreak said...
Aug 25, 2008, 2:51:00 PM  

AA,

How can you take a cheap shot at Teddy Atlas? Him and Papa made the boxing even remotely watchable. He doesn't have a perfect TV voice, but he tells it like it is. While all the NBC talking heads were glorifying everything olympics, Atlas was intelligently critiquing the judges, referees, scoring system, olympic boxing committee, USA boxing etc. He's refreshingly honest and that really stood out during an event like the olympics. Not to mention the fact that Atlas really does know the strategy of boxing and his fight plans are usually right on point.

Then again, if you didn't watch a minute of olympic boxing, I can't blame you. It was boring as hell and the scoring sucks.

Douglass said...
Aug 25, 2008, 4:00:00 PM  

Douglas- Sorry, that was just a bad joke. I really do like Atlas and even though there are times you can't really understand him, he knows his stuff. I love the demonstrations with Papa in the ring. He's also very "Bela" in portraying his love of the Sport.

And yes....Olympic Boxing is terrible to watch.

Aug 25, 2008, 4:08:00 PM  

I can't stand listening to Mary "It's a man, baby!" Carillo. Anything she says is overwhelmed by that poor man's Bea Arthur voice.

Heef said...
Aug 25, 2008, 5:03:00 PM  

I know you had two basketball guys in the winners, but sixers color guy Bob Salmi is real good and he's a nice guy too.

Michael said...
Aug 25, 2008, 5:13:00 PM  

The soccer coverage was unwatchable. God, I hate Marcelo Balboa, and they cut to break at the most abrupt times.

Doug Collins could not shut up about 1972. Good Lord.

I give the general coverage a C minus. Not having anything live outside of the men's hoops final on the West Coast knocked off major points and generally turning the entire coverage into a Chinese Tourism Ministry ad with real political issues surrounding the awarding of the games to Beijing and promises broken to the IOC by BOCOG should merit something.

Signal to Noise said...
Aug 25, 2008, 5:23:00 PM  

I thought the coverage was solid... glad to see you gave props to "Canadian" Tim Ryan, one of the vastly underrated announcers of all-time.

roperpau said...
Aug 25, 2008, 6:40:00 PM  

Overall, a good assessment, AA.

Bolton was pretty good..he, certainly, needs to work on his "dramatics." A timing thing, really.

Carillo? Can't watch her. I tried closing my eyes and just listening. No better! She has that annoying "my mouth is full of cotton" thing that many broadcasters(mostly Fems) can't seem to shake.

Daggett & Co. were tough to take. Did anyone else notice how quiet they(CC's) got when things were going wrong for an American gymnast? Too emotionally involved, me thinks.

The Diving chick was awful. Way too condescending.

Kiraly was AWESOME! At one point in the Women's final(I think) Walsh spiked and he said the Blue and Yellow striped ball went so fast it turned Green. Topnotch.

NBC did a good job, in my book. Maybe if I lived out West I'd feel differently. I don't, so screw 'em.

Monty said...
Aug 25, 2008, 7:14:00 PM  

alright AA i agree with 90% of this. I watched every event of the olympics, no joke, (not every second), but i caught a bit of every sport. Therefore i recgonize most of these announcers.
Here are my thoughts:

Your Winners:
You nailed everything on here, EXCEPT, I was dissapointed you didnt have anything on Teddy Atlas. He was funny, terrible, unbearable at the same time. If anyone saw "Teddy's Corner" you know what I mean.

Few you missed:
Mary Carillo
Tom Hammond

Your Losers-
Rowdy Gaines: He really wasnt that bad, he might be one of the reasons some people now know a little more about swimming. He really was educating, despite his Doug Colliness.

Al Trautwig: I tend to like him. He is knowladgable on Gymnastics. He also sounds like a Gymnast announcer, not obnoxious or loud, he just has the right tone and voice for it. Yah he said things that tended t be biased or stretches of the truth. But he just seems like the right guy for Gymnastics.

Cynthia Potter:
Deffinetley agree. She was nausiating. She made up more words than a freaking first grader. Words like enthuiasticism were thrown out there. Also she talked about how the divers enter the water with little slash due to AERO-dynamic forces. Clearly she isnt the brightest women.

Tim Daggett!!!!:
He is obnoixous, whats your thought on him? He was almost like Doug Collins, he talked sometimes about his days as a gymnast. Also (i was biased towards the US) he was biased towards the Americans even whe Bela Karolyi didnt have any complaints. He also doesnt apparently think anyone is good...at all. And i could care less he watched warmups. His job is covering Gymnastics, those girls have been doing the same rooutines for 2-4 years now.

Ato Bolden:
WASNT BAD. BUT words like Grimacing, Unbelievable and Greatest were used in every sentence he spoke while watching the replays of all the runs.

By the way Tom Hammond looks like Heat Miser and Cold Miser had a baby.

http://www.biggerboat.net/snowmiser

Overall, the games were great, and I am going to miss them greatly.

GusJohnsonForGod said...
Aug 25, 2008, 7:48:00 PM  

bob costas was bad and came off as unlikeable.

Corey said...
Aug 25, 2008, 11:28:00 PM  

i actually enjoyed Bob Costas and his interviews were enjoyable. I don't care what you say i am glad he talked about the issues because it seemed like no one cared. Don't tell you don't want politics with your sports because 1) half of theses events weren't even sports 2) we live in the 21st century and a lot of the viewers are educated and care about the world and NBC wasn't only targeting joe six pack to watch. telling people china has awful human rights isn't exactly, john f kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner", if hearing about it really makes you that upset while bob is talking in between rhythmic gymnastics then i am so sorry, i hope for the next olypics NBC will be considerate enough not to mix politics and "Sports"

Charles said...
Aug 26, 2008, 4:43:00 AM  

To me, it doesn't matter what percentage of the country got the events live. All I know is that I didn't - and nor did any of the other 37 million people who live here in California, the biggest population of any state in America, and more people that over half the countries of the world.

NBCOlympics.com should have had the track and field finals live; unfortunately, greed and old-school thinking consumed them.

Rowdy Gaines and Ato Bolton were obnoxious! They sounded as if they were trying out for WWE.

Finally, a warning to those who used the CBC as a "backdoor" for live sporting events: You won't find the Olympics on the CBC anymore. As of 2010, rights to show the Games in Canada will be transferred to CTV. I know CTV has an affiliate in Vancouver, but I don't know about Windsor, Ontario.

Desmond said...
Aug 26, 2008, 2:07:00 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aug 26, 2008, 2:29:00 PM  

You won't find the Olympics on the CBC anymore. As of 2010, rights to show the Games in Canada will be transferred to CTV.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!

BTW, the closest CTV affiliate to Windsor (where I sponged most of the live stuff from CBC) is in London and not offered on cable or even very accessible over-the-air for most of SE Michigan. Dammit.

Aug 26, 2008, 2:34:00 PM  

You omitted a relative newcomer Ron Vaccaro who did the racewalk. He was pretty phenomenal in his first Olympic Games. He did a great job bringing excitement to a somewhat dull event. Also, Tom Hammond is the most underrated announcer out there and, if anything, the most versatile.

Anonymous said...
Aug 27, 2008, 3:17:00 AM  

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