#nbcfail economics

Reading the #nbcfail hashtag has been at least as entertaining as much of NBC’s coverage of the Olympics. It’s also enlightening — economically enlightening.

There’s the obvious:
* The people formerly known as the audience have a voice and boy are they using it to complain about NBC’s tape delays of races and the opening ceremonies, about its tasteless decision to block the UK tribute to its 7/7 victims, and about its commentators’ idiocies (led by Meredith Vieira’s ignorance of the inventor of the web; they could have used their extra three hours to enlighten her).
* Twitter is a gigantic spoiler machine. It would be nearly impossible to isolate oneself from news of results because even if you don’t read Twitter or Facebook or go to the net, someone you know, someone you run into will. Information can’t be controlled. Amen.
* We in the U.S. are being robbed of the opportunity to share a common experience with the world in a way that was never before possible.
Those arguments have all been made well and wittily on #nbcfail.

The counterargument has been an economic one: NBC has to maximize commercial revenue, which means maximizing prime time viewership, to recoup the billions paid for the rights to broadcast, billions that pay for the stadiums and security and ceremony. The argument is also made that NBC’s strategy is working because it is getting record ratings.

But there’s no way to know whether airing the Phelps race or the opening ceremonies live on TV would have decreased or increased prime-time viewing. Indeed, with spoilers everywhere, viewing is up. I can easily imagine people watching the Phelps defeat live tweeting their heads off telling friends to watch it in prime time. I can imagine people thanking NBC for curating the best of the day at night and giving folks a chance to watch the highlights. I tweeted: “I’m waiting for NBC to take credit for idea Twitter helps build buzz & ratings for tape-delayed events.” (Which led Piers Morgan’s producer, Jonathan Wald, to take joking credit and then the executive producer of the NBC Olympics, Jim Bell, to offer it. To his credit, Bell has engaged with at least one tweeted suggestion.)

If NBC superserved its viewers, the fans, wouldn’t that be strategy for maximum audience? The BBC is superserving its viewers. I went to TunnelBear so I could sample what the BBC is offering on the air and in its iPlayer — which, of course, we can’t use in the U.S. — and it’s awesome. But, of course, the BBC is supported by its viewers’ fees. So the argument is that the BBC serves viewers because they’re the boss while NBC serves advertisers because they pay the bills.

I still don’t buy it. I don’t want to buy it, for that pushes media companies to put all they do behind walls, to make us pay for what we want. I still see a future for advertising support and free content. I still believe that if NBC gave the fans what they wanted rather than trying to make them do what NBC thinks it wants, NBC could win by growing audience and engagement and thus better serving sponsors. I ask you to imagine what Olympics coverage would look like if Google had acquired the rights. It would give us what we want and make billions, I’ll bet.

The problem for NBC as for other media is that it is trying to preserve old business models in a new reality. To experiment with alternatives when billions are at stake is risky. But so is not experimenting and not learning when millions of your viewers can complain about you on Twitter.

The bottom-line lesson for all media is that business models built on imprisonment, on making us do what you want us to do because you give us no choice, is no strategy for the future. And there’s only so long you can hold off the future.

The bottom line for Olympics fans is that, as Bill Gross pointed out, much of the blame for what we’re seeing — and not seeing — falls to the IOC and the overblown economics of the games. There is the root of greed that leads to brand police who violate free speech rights in the UK by chilling use of the innocent words “2012” and “games”, and tape delays, and branded athletes. This is the spirit of the Olympics Games? It is now.

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  • Has anyone been happy with how NBC has been handling the Olympics ? Tape delay, negative announcers and Phelps losing

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  • lessons .. 1) we are not yet globalized, not even close. 2) the economics of global connection are not understood. 3) the lesson that the viewer is NOT the customer has not yet been learned by viewers. 4) the olympics are a business. 5) people are ahead of institutions, and this gap will grow. institutions will fail. people will not.

  • garydpdx

    As long as the IOC allows NBC to continue overpaying them, the golden rule will prevail for Olympics coverage in the US … he who has the gold, makes the rules.

    It’s not too late to plan a summer holiday in Canada to watch the Games on CTV in-between sight-seeing, etc. Closing ceremony is on Sunday, August 12.


    Cord cutter here. I have Linux computers hooked up to all my entertainment screens, so when I saw how easy it was to spin up a Linode server in London and stream BBC, I jumped right on it. I had never spun up a cloud server before, but it was a piece of cake. Prolly only took me like 5 minutes to create an account and start streaming.

  • Craig Bradley

    I don’t understand praising the iPlayer, while failing to mention that the NBC apps allow for almost everything to be viewed live.

    I get that things could always be more accessible, but this Olympics is more available to US viewers live than any Olympics in history. Good to make our voices heard, but change often comes in increments. And the whining on Twitter is almost too much to take.

    First world entitlement FTW.

    • You miss the point really. In the UK the olympics is live and free to air and the coverage is objective, knowledgable and exciting. On top of that you can press the red button on the tv and watch ANY of the other sports live, again free to air. This means you can watch the sport you want, live, as it’s happening. The digital age does not move slowly. It is moving quickly and NBC have yet to catch up. This has not cost them in the past because social media was not the movement it is now. It will cost them now and in the future. This has changed the game – pardon the pun.

    • Craig, NBC is not allowing “almost everything to be viewed live.” They are only allowing it if you are already a paid cable-tv subscriber. (Cable, telco like FIOS or U-verse, or satellite), with a subscription level that includes CNBC and MSNBC basic cable channels.

      I’m a subscriber to Comcast, NBC’s owner, with their Xfininty internet. But I still can’t stream it, because I don’t pay for an above-broadcast/basic-cable TV subscription. And they don’t even offer a way to pay for just the streaming.

      I would *give them money*, if the price were reasonable, to buy their “Olympic Streaming Package”, but they don’t offer that. Likewise, I can’t even live stream events that are on the Free-to-Air commercial-supported NBC broadcast network.

      This is asinine.

      • This. I don’t understand why I can’t give NBC money for a one-day or three-day or all-Games pass to view the stream. I can only assume that they have a vested interest in propping up the increasingly creaky cable/satellite business model, one that overrides their interest in taking the money of cable-free people who would directly pay them to watch the Olympics.

        Edited upon re-reading your comment: Comcast owns NBC now? Jesus. That explains everything. Having all our media owned by about six companies really serves the consumer well. Thanks for the oversight, FTC!

        • I don’t get this either. Like you, I’d pay a flat fee to live stream the entire Olympics, but apparently NBC’s not interested.

    • Lynn Pounian

      Theoretically, you can watch live. In reality, not so much. I’ve tried four separate times to watch online. Every time, the feed froze – whenever I refreshed, I’d have to watch another 15 second ad, see three seconds of action and then, another freeze.

      I’m not whining. I’ve just stopped watching.

  • Brian Butterworth

    I think what I find most annoying about NBC leaving out the “Abide With Me” bit of the broadcast, is that the section was introduced in the UK as being to remember those who have passed on “to everyone in the [TV and stadium] audience” , not just specifically Londoners or those killed on 7/7.

    The whole point about a shared remembrance is .. rather lost .. if you edit it out.

    Us Brits came with our US allies into Iraq and Afghanistan because of common bonds and respect for 9/11. The BBC would NEVER edit out a 9/11 bit from a live US broadcast. (We even carried the First Lady’s speech to Team USA the other morning in full)

    I don’t think we are “as a nation” distraught at the “snub” or anything, but surprised that you allow NBC to treat you so badly.

    • samia

      BBC would have done better to pass on the First Junketer’s speech. As a sycophantic media agent of the White House, NBC was likely just carrying on Obama’s tradition of snubbing the UK. NBC & the other msm networks have been mistreating & misinforming the US audience for years.

      • ravenas

        True. NBC and MSNBC lost me as a viewer years ago when nearly their entire editorial board turned political. MSNBC, in particular, is a farce of a news organization. It’s just the flip side of Fox News.

        The sadness here are all the opportunities NBC missed with their delayed coverage of the Opening Ceremonies. No one briefed Meredith Vieira or Matt Lauer on the role Kenneth Branagh played (Isambard Kingdom Brunel, #2 on the most memorable historical Britain list and the Bill Gates/Steve Jobs of his day) and the significance of the 7/7 remembrance.

        I saw the BBC broadcast and the NBC broadcast. While I did find the remembrance a bit mysterious (I had to google the date to remind myself what connection it had to the 2012 Olympic games), this was something Meredith and Matt could have easily provided context for.

        Only other explanation is they did not want to bring terrorism and the associated politics into the broadcast. If you mention the “T” word, someone invariably turns it into an Iraq War debate.

        • danwriter

          Brian: Vitriolic, knee-jerk paranoids who find a way to politicize everything are perhaps part of the reason we in the US are stuck with massive monopolies like Comcast/NBCU.

  • Marin

    I posted this on another #nbcfail post but I still think it holds up.

    I think a common sense solution is to have NBC broadcast these things live on the Internet at the time of the event and then being able to tape delay television broadcasts to suit their programming. I’m even okay with them holding the online replay for their own tape delay. Authenticating is okay but anything that’s broadcast OTA should be freely available online and on multiple devices.

    I also think the conversation is a little disingenuous by not acknowledging that NBC has done a great job of getting this content online and on nearly any device. There are still problems with having to authenticate and the tape delay stuff but they are making progress.

    • Mpops

      I wouldn’t know. I don’t have a TV or subscribe to CSNBC and MSNBC so NBC blocks my access to anything Olympics on-line. The easy solution? Get a Canadian IP address. Or a British one.

  • Theresa

    CTV in Canada is broadcasting live and is seeing record viewership. In fact, half -1 of every 2 – Canadians watched the opening ceremonies live, and in full. I’m sure rebroadcasts would get a health viewership as well. Surely the ‘economics’ aren’t much different in these neighbouring countries.

    • ravenas

      Ah but would NBC get the same advertising revenue for a daytime broadcast? When criticizing “old media”, I think it only fair to consider the constraints they work under. Advertisers pay more for evening/prime time spots because that’s when most people watch TV. You pay in advance for expected viewership. NBC would have to prove to its advertisers they would draw the audience commanding such a high ad rate.

      • vallllche

        A tape delay was not good for NBC’s image.
        As you said, advertisers pay more for evening/prime time spots so that means that NBC just did this to get more money with a larger audience… even if it is good for them or if it was good for some people who cannot watch it earlier, it is a bad things for the value and the image of NBC and the US.

  • peterrecore

    The IOC is the root of the this problem. They gave NBC the right to do this. Why focus on the symptom and not the root cause?

  • I couldn’t agree more. What a great opportunity for NBC to break the stranglehold of the old world order business model and invent a new one for the entire broadcasting industry, that could have been road-tested effectively with the Olympics. #nbcfail

  • Tess

    A lot of the problems revolve around the fact that what’s good for Comcast is different from what would be good for a broadcast network in isolation.

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  • Michele MacKay

    You should look at CTV here in Canada. It’s a private network, unlike the BBC, and it is superserving as well. For example, it showed the opening ceremonies live during the afternoon and then replayed them in primetime. On top of that, we have high-quality coverage. Our veteran Olympics TV host, coincidentally named Brian Williams, is simply awesome. I can’t imagine watching the Olympics without him. The commentary has been interesting, informative, accurate and smart, and it is never overdone. They let you watch for yourself instead of talking over things, and time their commentary well. So if CTV, which is a private network like NBC, can do it, why can’t NBC do it as well? BTW, I’ve seen on twitter that some U.S. viewers are watching the CTV coverage online here: http://www.ctvolympics.ca/

    • garydpdx

      Yes and for those Canadians with cable, they have access to NBC (MSNBC and CNBC may get blocked) to find out what #NBCfail is all about (especially those who went to the NBC rebroadcast after seeing the opening ceremony live on CTV).

  • Where I do believe NBC has failed in the simple things – don’t lead the nightly news on NBC with the Phelps story, talk about it for a good chuck of the broadcast, then have EVERY commercial during the news be a tease for the race that night, where they really did say we should tune in to see who won. No, Brian Williams spoiled that for us.

  • stevebeste

    NBC Stars went into these games bitching that there would be no remembrance for the 1972 tragedy. Then they dumped the memorial to victims of terror. Hypocrisy.

  • Steve Buttry

    Excellent piece, Jeff! And they are so rigid they won’t be able to adjust at all during the Olympics, just insist this is how it has to be.

  • Dick Tofel

    Two quick thoughts: 1) the economics (and overall structure) of Canadian and US broadcast TV ARE quite different; 2) comparisons between BBC and NBC need to more fundamentally acknowledge the time difference in their home markets than Jeff does here. The games put many events live in UK prime time, which makes things easier for BBC, while nothing can happen live in US prime time.

    • SeekTruthFromFacts

      From my memories of Beijing 2008, the BBC had a both/and approach: live streams plus highlights packages at breakfast/in primetime.

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  • Bonnie Jean

    We have choices in this country to watch or not to watch. No one is forcing you to watch NBC! If you don’t want to know, stay tuned to ABC, if you want the results for what ever reason, then watch NBC. Enjoy your simple freedoms to choose! If this is all that bugs some people, you have a very easy life, to the point maybe you need one!

    • tiara

      I think you’re missing the point like NBC. For this special event broadcast by many countries, NBC is not in competition with ABC but with all the other channels showing the opening ceremony: the BBC, CTV, EuroSport, a chinese network etc.People had access to these channels online, legally or not and didn’t wait for NBC to watch it.
      Jeff, I was watching a BBC feed when I heard a bababooey from an athlete in US team, did NBC edit it out?

  • Tom Wolper

    Looking at the way NBC is handling the Olympics I conclude that NBC does not want me to watch them. I do not have cable/satellite/FIOS so watching their stream is off limits to me and the usual sites I go to for unofficial sports streams are not aggregating Olympic sports. I find the concentration on US athletes, and ignoring events in which the US is not favored, a turnoff. I have left the 18-49 demographic so I do not believe NBC cares if I watch. So I am ignoring these games. The part of it that really irks me is that a month ago I had free live streaming access to all the games of the Euro 2012 football championship on ESPN 3.

    • I’m in their core demographic and them not making their live streams available to those without cable tells me they don’t want me to watch any part of these Games.

      • chiefjock

        It continues to amaze me that people expect to be able to see these events live, for free…to expect NBC to provide streaming of all events to anyone who has a computer completely ignores economics…i’ve watched lots of the live streaming during the day and can say i’m completely satisfied with that method of watching events i care about…otherwise, i’m fine with waiting until prime time.

        • Who said anything about free? They could easily have made the live streaming available to non-cable subscribers and charged a flat fee. Again. Not that difficult.

  • Thank you for the link to the Canadian feed! Tired of not being able to watch water polo and other sports. I’m American and NBC drives me crazy!

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  • Mogulmeister

    How refreshing to read this Jeff – when i first heard abot NBC’s policy I thought I was going mad.

  • NBC will not likely have the same issue of delayed broadcast for Rio 2016 since it’s only 1 hour time zone difference from ET and friendly for a US audience. Having said that, Sochi 2014 (Winter Olympics) is going to have a similar challenge as London 2012 (Sochi is 8 hours difference from ET).

    • NBC is notorious for tape delaying any marquee event that doesn’t fall within East Coast primetime. This includes its coverage of the games in Atlanta 1996, Salt Lake City 2002 and Vancouver 2010.

      Also, NBC’s primetime program airs in primetime, regardless of the time zone. So, even if it’s live on the East Coast, it will be tape-delayed for the Mountain time zone and zones west.

  • HDTV Guru

    The technical quality of NBC’s “fluff” segments on the olympic athletes and venues around London is terrible – color mismatch on camera shots, crushed blacks, over exposed video levels, etc. The quality of these segments makes them look like they were shot with a “prosumer” camera and maybe they were.

    Hey NBC you are covering the Olympics for gosh sakes. Please try and make your technical quality something you can have some pride in rather than a source of embarrassment.

    There are these tools in television production and post production called waveform monitors and vector scopes. Maybe you folks should consider using them…

  • The bit that grates on me, is the “we’ll stream everything online… as long as you already buy TV”… without any option for those of us who are long free of television.

    • Also, NBC execs should watch the Xfinity advert they are running. It shows how TV is meant to be consumed. The 80’s are over.

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  • Marc Mooney

    I am living in China and have been amazed by watching the Olympics on CCTV. Coverage here is “live,” in real time, but suffers from being a mirror image of the parochialism of NBC. Everything centers on Chinese athletes and teams, with the same lingering shots on medals ceremonies and high-fiving between CCTV reporters and the athletes. It’s all China, all the time. But, hey, I’m used to that kind of jingoistic approach. U.S. coverage is shamelessly pro-American, so why not Chinese coverage? That’s the reality: we pretend we’re so globalized and cosmopolitan, but when it comes down to it we root for the home squad.

    • FlappySocks

      The BBC have 24 live HD channels, plus several highlight channels. The live channels are mostly unbiased. Winners are interviewed regardless of country, and incredibly USA winners get interviewed by the BBC first, as there is nobody from nbc. Some of the evening highlight shows are more pro-British.

  • heuristocrat

    This has been happening for other events lately but the Olympics brings it to a head. We think of the Olympics as being something that belongs to all of us. Not some IOC or media executives. What’s going on now makes it clear that that’s not really true, at least no in terms of being able to see the games. The salt in the wound on this one is that many people would be willing (if not always happy) to pay a fee for a “live access pass” or similar live and on-demand viewing. This has prompted people with means and integrity to become content “pirates” and do what they can to try and get access to illegal streams or libraries to see the games. Hard to see how this gets resolved.

  • $29409261

    There’s no way you can pay for Bob Costas salary with your ideas.

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  • Amen. I don’t believe any country in history has been net cash positive for putting on the Olympic games, so the host city motivation comes from other goals. Still, the host city doesn’t want to lose any more money than necessary. London renovating 500 urban acres is an incredible story all by itself… one which isn’t being told. (I’d watch that documentary.)

    It’s an outmoded view of the media that the right to cover the Olympics is worth billions. If it is worth that much, how come there hasn’t been a single memorable ad (so far?)? When ABC covered the Olympics and Roone Arledge was in charge of what we saw, somehow the games were fresher, cleaner and more exciting. You saw more detail, perhaps of fewer sports. The editing has been horrible. While it took me a long time to accept the phrase “up close and personal” from years ago, it eventually became commonplace. There is nothing lovable or potentially memorable about these Olympics. And watching Matt Lauer punching Ryan Seacrest during a faux Olympic event was simply bizarre. Probably too late for NBC to overcome #NBCfail

    • FlappySocks

      London did in fact make a profit when it hosted the Olympics in 1946. Costs were much lower then of course.

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  • jimmy john

    NBC has proven once again, it should be banned from selection as an Olympic television outlet. The whole point of athletics, especially at this level, is the LIVE drama. If they want to re air an event in prime time, fine. That audience is still there. Or just watch the highlights on your local news. Would NBC dare air the Super Bowl on tape delay? What kind of idiots are running the show there?? Note to their advertisers: There are a slew of viewers who have now COMPLETELY tuned you out. Cha-ching!

    • Chris

      I came into this wanting to watch on TV. Once I saw that NBC was delaying, I searched out other places to watch such as the BBC or NHK. What’s interesting is that NBC’s live streaming is still delayed by 5 minutes. faillllll

  • Can someone explain to me why NBC can’t do what ESPN has done with its recent World Cup and Euro broadcasts? All games are aired live, and packaged highlights are broadcast in the evening. At the very least, NBC could do this for the popular events (swimming, track & field, gymnastics, diving, etc.) IIRC, ESPN’s Euro 2012 viewership was up by a considerable amount over their 2008 broadcast, and this is with them providing live streams and full replays online. What am I missing about this?

  • seanpat

    This has been going on forever with the Olympics here in the USA, and now people are complaining?

  • Robert

    Even if I hadn’t seen any twitter spoilers (unlikely), the fact that I know its not live completely ruins the enjoyment of it for me. #nbcfail indeed

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  • capnbob67

    I agree about the horrible NBC coverage and streaming but I wanted to clarify. The broadcast fees and sponsorships total about $6Bn. The IOC takes half for gold plated toilet seats and gives the rest to LOCOG (London Organizing Committee). LOCOG then sweats $15-19Bn out of the host country government which pays for all the stadiums etc. IOC gets fed grapes, LOCOG tries to organize a piss up in a brewery and the local taxpayer is on the hook for almost all of it. Doesn’t change NBC’s imperatives but they did not pay for much of the games.

  • RichardReich

    None of the #nbcfail issues you and so many others rant about concern me at all. I almost never watch anything live. I’m old enough to have had all the schedule slavery I can tolerate. I watch DVRed or on-demand netcast material exclusively. I also don’t use or like Twitter and Facebook, so no spoilers. But I have a complaint!

    NBC, at least as presented on DIRECTV, blocks out 4 or more hours of mishmash coverage. “Soccer, archery, swimming, blah, blah, blah, blah.” I’m usually interested in only one thing, so my only option is to DVR 4 or more hours of material with the prospect of FFing through the vast majority of it to find possibly disjoint segments of the stuff I want to watch. This is so appalling, I don’t bother. I haven’t watched a minute of the Olympics so far, and I probably won’t see any of it. I want microscheduling and continuous, unedited presentation of a single event. NBC does not seem capable of this.

    So, yeah, #nbcfail.

  • Londoner

    Dear Americans

    I’m British and welcome – finally – to my world. You endure #NBCFail for the Olympics, I have to endure having to wait years for some of your best entertainment that I enjoy so much.

    To give you an indication: UK ITunes offers Breaking Bad series 2 now. While you’re watching the final season now, I’m still waiting for season 3. The same goes for Louie (not available at all, or on UK tv) and many others. I won’t bore you with the waiting times for major release movies.

    So if we want to join the global conversation on any of these, we have no alternative but to find out sources on the net that will give it to us. Net result: I am watching Breaking Bad season 4, and AMC and its distributors have lost 45 pounds of revenue from this user alone.

    The author’s conclusion for NBCFail is utterly apt here: “The bottom-line lesson for all media is that business models built on imprisonment, on making us do what you want us to do because you give us no choice, is no strategy for the future.”

    • matthewmaurice

      It’s a two-way street, ask any US Sherlock or Downton Abby fan.

    • Chris

      What I don’t understand is that both countries act like there’s a major language barrier. If they were having to take the time to translate this from Japanese or German, then I could understand.

      The current situation is just an obvious money grab by expanding into new markets only after they’ve fully tapped their home market dry.

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  • Jim Sylvester

    I might be overreacting, but this seems like a watershed moment in media / TV / communications (etc.) As intimated by Prof. Jarvis’ insightful piece, the future does not lie with any “imprisonment model,” but rather with a much more open structure in which we (the current audience) select individual streams to view. Networks such as NBC who think that the model will remain static are simply going to die because they will be outflanked. It is already obvious that they are sadly behind the curve; a new generation of leadership is needed at COMCAST/NBC. If anything, #NBCfail is bringing home to a much wider group that there are, right now, alternatives to expensive cable subscriptions.

    This trajectory has been developing for a long time. I remember when there were only a handful of broadcast channels; that gave way to cable and a wide array of “packages” with some pay-for-view; now we are seeing a merger among all visual media and the internet to where there will be little distinction between a “TV” and a “computer” (more an “internet device”)

    User will select (or are already selecting) individual items to view. Live sports simply become a stream; how this will work with developing news is less certain, but I think the days of the combined news/sports/entertainment networks are coming to a close. They risk being dinosaurs unable to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. What NBC has revealed is that they have no vision, no ability to adapt; they are to be counted among species that are doomed to extinction.

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  • It’s my understanding that NBC is now dominated by Comcast…

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  • Mileage

    Why should we expect TV to be a real-time platform when it is much more suitable as a story-telling platform? Live sports work well only if they are very heavily produced to follow a real-time story. This approach isn’t practical for most Olympics Sports. NBC is doing exactly the right thing.

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  • A live show is 10,000 times more interesting than packaged sugar. I think I need to go on a diet watching all that sweetness.

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  • Steven Peralta

    TiVo. I think I’m about 4-5 days behind real time. But it’s worth it to skip past the sappy biographies and inane commentary of the NBC talking heads, not to mention the vast quantity of commercial interruptions.

  • Tom

    The idea of interrupting the closing ceremony to insert an hour long promo for an animal vet show was unbelievable. We turned that off and did not finish watching. They definitely broadcasted the crappiestOlympicsI have ever seen. Oh, and please tell Bob Costa to pack his bags. He really sucks.

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