As the world’s most elite athletes return to their respective countries following the Rio 2016 Olympics, only three things can more or less be accepted as facts (especially if you are an American): the United States has a lot of talented athletes, the rest of the world has no shortage of excellence in sports, and NBC’s coverage of the Olympics has been … less than desirable, to say the least. For the unaware, NBC is a television network that has the exclusive rights to broadcast every Olympic event in the United States. This means that if you want to watch the Olympics on the TV, the only channel that can broadcast the event is NBC. However, the popular (if not general) consensus is that NBC’s coverage of the Rio 2016 Olympics is utterly terrible. You may point out that NBC’s coverage of the Olympics is more or less unchanged from their usual formula from previous Olympic events, but that in itself is the problem: thanks to the mere existence of websites like Twitch and YouTube, NBC was doomed to criticism before the events even began.
Being a major television network, the NBC broadcast of the Olympics was a fairly standard affair: certain events are shown throughout the day, with advertisements and commentators galore. Of course, with how expensive the broadcast rights are, it was to be expected that there were ads. To their credit, NBC did offer alternatives to the traditional television broadcast, namely through live streams and such through their website and Xbox One/mobile apps. However, this didn’t exactly stem the complaints that people had, especially since you had to go through the mild inconvenience of having to authenticate with your TV provider. Yes, that’s right, for reasons that we can only speculate to, you have to jump through some hoops to watch something that is otherwise free (on the most basic level anyways).
Needless to say, this is effectively a bastardization of what made YouTube and Twitch popular and is likely part of why traditional television has been fading away, especially among younger audiences. There is certainly no shortage of similarities between NBC’s traditional Olympics broadcast, their online Olympics broadcast, and YouTube and Twitch’s formats; they are all free, have ads, and are quite capable of being used for the purpose of presenting a very doctored perspective, but the degree to which these factors exist and the amount of control you have over said mediums makes all the difference.
If, for example, YouTube didn’t let you skip their ads (which occasionally cut into the content that you actually want to watch), played about 3 minutes of ads (by the way, they are pulled from the same set of 10-20 ads) per 10 minutes of actual content, threw in a bunch of sappy stories (that eventually encroach into “been there, seen that” territory) that are intended to highlight the struggles of extraordinary people, and made it so that you can’t actually choose what you want to watch, then that would still be a bit of a step up from NBC’s Olympic broadcast. Throw in some rather mediocre (at best) commentators and TV personalities, a very blatant bias towards a certain viewpoint, and the fact that the broadcast schedule is somewhat … odd with its mix of live, pre-recorded, and local programming, and you have the basic framework of NBC’s Olympic broadcasting.
Realistically speaking, it would be highly unlikely for NBC to actually change anything for future Olympics being that they have a monopoly over the broadcasting rights. However, it does seem like a huge disservice, not just to the viewers but also to the Olympians themselves, for NBC to not take into consideration the reasons why people have flocked to things like YouTube and Twitch and to capitalize on said reasons to maximize the exposure that the Olympians get. These are very powerful services that can be taken advantage of (especially from a marketing and advertising standpoint, unfortunately), and to merely use them in a role that is secondary to a medium that isn’t exactly booming in popularity is rather unfortunate. After all, most of these athletes don’t (presumably) live extravagant lives once the Olympics are over, so why not make sure that these athletes that we keep propping up as the best of the best get the recognition that they deserve via the best possible viewing experiences?