Tuesday, July 31, 2012

An Open Letter to NBC: More Things Happen at the Olympics Than Swimming

Dear NBC,

I love the Olympics.  I watch as much of them as I can, sometimes to the detriment of personal relationships (read: a husband who gets ignored for two weeks).  I look forward to the global pageantry, the spectacle, the amazing effort of all the athletes, and to seeing a number of sports that don’t normally get the same glory (or TV coverage) as the NFL or the NBA.     

But your coverage so far has done next to nothing to show America—and the world—what’s really happening in London.  According to one of your representatives, there are 302 medals to be given out in 32 sports.  Yet I can count the number you’ve shown in your prime-time broadcasts on one hand.  Beach volleyball, synchronized diving, swimming, and gymnastics.  That’s four.  Out of 32.  Four. 

Swimming and gymnastics are popular sports, to be sure—but is that all there is to it?  Based on the commercials shown during your broadcast, swimmers generate a great deal of ad revenue, which is likely a goal of your coverage.  Fencers, velodrome cyclists, archers, shooters, weightlifters, boxers, rowers, and equestrians do not generate ad revenue.  Is this why you haven’t shown these competitions in primetime at all?  Are the athletes who bring in ad revenue more worthy than those who struggle out of the limelight?  Your answer appears to be "yes."  

Perhaps you think that everyone has cable, and access to multiple sports channels where other Olympic sports can be viewed.  I do not.  Perhaps you think that everyone has unlimited bandwidth and data usage available for them to stream other Olympic sports.  I do not.  Rather stupidly, I depend on your primetime and late-night coverage to provide a well-rounded view of the games. 

I feel terrible for the members of Team USA who do not participate in swimming or gymnastics.  Their families won’t get to see them on TV.  The people they went to high school with won’t be surprised to see how far their old school mates have come.  No one will even know they’re there—not as long as you insist on showing endless heats for the endless number of swimming races instead of showing finals—people actually winning medals—in other sports. 

After Monday night’s disappointing primetime coverage, I stayed up late, thinking that the late-night edition would show something different.  What was the first sport covered?  Yet more swimming.  Really?  More than half of the primetime coverage was not sufficient?  There was nothing else happening anywhere in any of the other Olympic venues deemed worthy of being shown at 1 am? 

When the late-night program switched to covering whitewater canoeing, I sat up with interest.  Then I sat back down when valuable minutes were wasted interviewing John McEnroe and Shaun White—two people who are not even competing here.  Why not interview athletes who are living their dreams right now?  Why not interview some American medal winners who would never otherwise get to be on national TV?  Is this the way you treat the Americans who have trained and bled and cried and worked their hardest in order to get here?  In their one moment to shine, you chose to interview a famous spectator who has nothing to do with any of the sports in the summer games. 

Thanks, NBC. 

Thanks for doing absolutely nothing to showcase the wide range of talents and sports on display.  America’s athletes deserve better than what you have provided so far.  

Jenni Wiltz