Technology has improved the way the world watches the Olympics. Super slow-mo replay. The magical yellow world-record line. These are good things. The best part is how technology has made the information immediate, with live streams and instant updates. But the network responsible for delivering the games to America is broadcasting a tangled, discordant mess—and it's ruining the 2012 Olympic experience.
There are a ton of ways to watch the Olympics this year. I spent the majority of Saturday and Sunday absolutely glued to the games. I had NBC on TV, and I had two separate live streams going: one on my laptop and one on my Nexus 7. Great, right? Wrong.
See, NBC is constantly telling you during the broadcast to "supplement your viewing experience" via NBCOlympics.com or through their apps. But going online doesn't supplement anything—it strangles and spoils it at the same time. This is where timezones and corporate greed collide head on.
For example: Yesterday, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte swam in the big, important men's 4x100 relay. The event took place in the mid-afternoon Eastern Time. It was a Sunday, it was day time. NBC could have very easily broadcast it live. But no. They wanted to save it for prime time. For those juicy advertising dollars. So instead, they broadcast full-length, early-round men's water polo and beach volleyball games (which went on for-fucking-ever). Struggling to keep my eyes open, I decided to check the schedule on the NBC Olympics site. The banner image, splashed right in the middle of the page, was how France just beat the U.S. in the Men's 4x100. Gaaaaaaah!
I mean, I would have found out momentarily anyway, because Twitter and Facebook were already going off about it. But see, herein lies the problem. Currently, you can choose to stream it live, which is basically a commentary-free raw video feed, on a tiny screen. Or you can watch the full broadcast later, which offers better coverage, but then you already know the outcome. So do you want bad coverage in real time, or good coverage way later, after you already know what happened?
These options suck.
Sure, the live streaming is great for the cool smaller events that won't be broadcast later. (Badminton! Yes!) But for the big ones, NBC cannot treat us like we're still living in the early 90's. Suspense is such a huge part of the viewing experience. The network needs to show the good stuff live, and then use its prime time slot to cover all of the big stuff that happened during the day (since it's all over by that time anyway). People who weren't watching earlier (and have somehow managed to avoid spoilers) will still be surprised. And the network will be able to quickly show much, much more stuff. Win-win.
See, right now, the primetime coverage is weird. They're doing it "as if" it's all happening right now, for the first time. They don't say that's what it is, but that's the way they present it. If we all join hands with Bob Costas and wish real hard, we can time travel together and it will be real! It's supposed to build the drama and the suspense. Except it's totally bogus, and you only need to take their own advice about checking out their app or website to completely shatter the illusion. The world is too connected now for these silly games. We know that when it's 8pm in London, it's not 8pm in New York. Our suspension of disbelief has been washed away in the tide of realtime information and communications. So let's stop pretending. Let's accept the space-time continuum as it is, and not cover sports in a vacuum out of sync with the fabric of reality (not to mention, common sense).
This is not the only way technology has been getting out of hand. Yesterday, spectators were asked to stop Tweeting because it was screwing up some radio equipment. Shooting in the pentathlon is now done with lasers instead of bullets, which of course abide by a whole different set of physics and fundamentally change the sport.
Remember those full-body swimsuits that were allowed back at the 2008 games? That suit technology continued to progress until 2009, which is when an astounding number of world records were set. At that point, someone realized that it was becoming more about the swimsuit and less about the swimmer. They were banned, and now it's about the athletes again, which is as it should be. But there remains a mountain of world records from '09 (the fast-suit era) that our naked athletes of today may end up chasing for a very long time.
Then again, it would be insane to argue that technology hasn't improved the games, too. Instant replay helps to ensure that the competitors get a fair shake. For example, South Korea's Park Tae-hwan was accidentally disqualified from the 400m freestyle by a judge who thought he had false started. After much review, that decision was reversed. And how about the bullet-time footage we're getting of gymnasts in mid-air? Totally amazing.
So we're not saying to curtail technology. We're saying NBC is pissing everyone off, and the network needs to join its viewers in the modern age. Broadcast the big events live, regardless of what time they're taking place, so we can share the excitement with the world, in the moment. People will still tune in at prime time. Promise.