Every four years, for as long as I can remember, I’ve watched the network coverage of the Olympics. (Well,it’s been every two years since the Winter and Summer games were staggered). It’s a rah-rah fest of uplifting profiles and edited competition, to be sure – except on the rare occasions when it’s held in a region where North Americans can watch it live.
Up until now, viewers have always taken it for granted that they should just accept whatever the network that has the rights to the games – NBC, for the last couple of decades – dishes out to them, and be grateful they get to see them at all.
And then came social media.If you’ve been online at all since the start of the Games (and I know you have, or else how could you be reading this?), no doubt you’ve come across the NBC Fail movement – both the Twitter hashtag and the online petition at Change.org. The basic message is this – viewers are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.
Viewers are used to having access to all sorts of live programming, all the time, no matter where they are – and that goes double for sports. March Madness, in particular, generated a lot of interest for people who wanted their dose of hoops via their smartphones and tablets. So when the Olympics rolled around, surely people would be able to see the whole thing live, right?
Wrong. NBC continued to offer its usual menu of highly edited, tape-delayed highlights in prime time – and said highlights were almost entirely of American athletes. In addition, potential viewers found themselves spoiled for what happened in that day’s competition every time they turned on one of their electronic devices, since London is five hours ahead of the East Coast of the U.S.
But surely, in this day in age, NBC would offer streaming, right? Well, yes, there is an iPad/iPhone app – but it won’t run unless you’re in the range of wifi. If, like me, you have a traditional wired office (yes, those exist), you’re out of luck. In addition, the quality of the streaming has been highly criticized, with people noting its tendency to freeze up at crucial moments.
And so, when people can’t get the games on their phones, when they can’t enjoy the TV coverage without their phones spoiling them . . . they’re going to use those selfsame phones to take to social media, and vent, and rally.
The old hippie saying, “Power to the People,” was suddenly taking on new meaning, as the public began to noisily demand that NBC drop their traditional feel-good, America-frack-yeah package and give them what they truly want, and have come to expect – coverage that’s raw, live, immediate – oh, and that WORKS. (Otaku have yet to come out against NBC’s horrid mangling of Japanese names, but that’s probably next).
So far, NBC hasn’t formally responded to the Fail movement – but they have to know that this is very, very bad PR for them. It also comes at a time when network television is losing face with the public as a whole, and viewers are increasingly seeking other alternatives.
The ultimate takeaway from this? No matter who you are, who you work for, beware of social media. The public knows what they want, and if you do not give it to them, they will let the entire world know. Literally.
The Olympics may look the same as ever right now, but things will be very different four years from now. The Twittersphere will see to that. – Bonnie Walling