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Is the Criticism of the Rio Olympics Warranted?

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As usual, there has been a lot of criticism regarding how the Olympics have been covered by NBC Sports. It’s the same topics that are often discussed: There’s too much beach volleyball and basketball, but not enough of some of the more unique events that are often passed over. Maybe it’s because fans can bet on those events at online casinos with no deposit needed.

But, just like everything in sports media, it’s a ratings-driven business, and we understand why NBC Sports focuses on certain events.

Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch recently caught up with NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus, and he provided some insight regarding how the big decisions are made.

How does Rio stack up against London?

Lazarus said the reason Rio is drawing more criticism than past Olympics is because NBC Sports did such a good job with London (try not to laugh here).

Everyone is talking about these Olympics versus London,” he said. “London was an A+ and Rio is an A. It’s been really good for us, and as media habits as evolved, we have evolved and are leading with some of the ways we are structuring our programming.”

We’d expect a media giant such as NBC to be a pioneer in terms of programming, and would expect the same from ABC (ESPN),  CBS and FOX Sports.

Criticism from West Coast viewers who want earlier primetime coverage

Sports fans want content throughout the day, rather than sitting around waiting for the major events to happen. Unfortunately, for those on the West Coast, primetime coverage doesn’t begin until 7 or 8 p.m. PT.

“What I would say is while it is not necessarily our television feed, we are making the events available live (via streaming) to everyone,” Lazarus said. “That gives people who want to see it live the opportunity. Remember, that was new in London. That had never been done before. We have continued to make more product available to more people in more ways.”

The streaming addition is definitely a nice added touch that NBC Sports has offered, as well as the dissemination of highlights on social media. For example, I missed one of Michael Phelps’ races, but was able to watch the entire event quite easily by checking out the network’s Twitter feed.

What does the future hold?

With South Korea set to host the 2018 Olympics, and Japan to do the same in 2020, NBC Sports knows it will have a difficult time battling through the time difference. This creates an issue with whether to show events live or not. Lazarus talked about it.

“We always take a step back after the Games and look at how we are going to evolve our coverage to continue to reach the highest audience, and frankly to pay off our advertising partners and give them a chance to reach our audience,” Lazarus said. “It is working well here and we will do the same thing for Pyeongchang and Tokyo. We know the time difference is plus-14 hours to Pyeongchang but what we don’t know is the athletic schedule yet—what events are playing when. That will have a bearing on what we do in primetime.”

Having a 14-hour time-difference poses a big challenge for the network, and it will be interesting to see what strategy NBC Sports implements to help overcome this for viewers located in the United States.


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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com