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 TV Bites with Neena Louise

NBC vs. CBC - The "Other" 2008 Summer Olympic Event
by Neena Louise

I'm not much of a sports fan, but I love the Olympics (both Winter and Summer) and I am fortunate to live in an area that I can receive both American (NBC) and Canadian (CBC) coverage of the Games. I've always been glad I wasn't stuck with NBC (who still don't seem to even understand the concept of the Olympics) and am able to watch CBC's far-superior copious live coverage. This year was no different, though it seems CBC took a few lessons from NBC on "How Not to Cover the Olympics".

CBC aired many, many more live events than NBC, but I found it very frustrating to tune into CBC's morning broadcast (evening in Beijing) only to find repeats of events that had already aired and a lot of boring "blah, blah, blah" while medal events were going on live, but not being aired. How very NBC of them. Perhaps because CTV (Canada's other large broadcast network) will be taking over Olympic coverage for the Winter Games in 2010, CBC just didn't care and stopped trying so hard to provide their usual top-drawer Olympic coverage. Whatever the reason, for shame, CBC! Despite this, CBC was still the one to watch, not only for having more live coverage, but for airing less-popular events you'd
never see on NBC.

NBC, meanwhile, once again showed their pathological aversion to airing live events - the most egregious of which was their failure to air the 100 m men's sprint live. Considering it was expected that the world record would be broken (which it was), I'm still dumbfounded by NBC's decision not to air it live. NBC was airing the U.S. vs. Spain basketball game at the time (10:30 a.m. EDT on a Saturday), but I guess they couldn't interrupt the first period of a preliminary game for 30 seconds to air what is arguably the Olympics' main event (I suppose since Michael Phelps wasn't in it, NBC didn't deem it worthy of live coverage). Atypically, NBC
did have some live coverage in their primetime broadcasts and, occasionally, in the morning (at least in the EDT time zone). But they only covered an event or two - focusing almost exclusively on beach volleyball, swimming and gymnastics - then filled the rest with taped stuff I'd already seen on CBC (sometimes more than once), ended their "live" broadcast around midnight, then aired more taped events in the middle of the night. Typical NBC crappy coverage.

Unlike other years, much live coverage could be had on both networks' websites. In this instance, CBC outshone NBC, hands down. On CBC's TV broadcast, it was usually made clear what was streaming on their website at any given time, so you could make the choice to watch one event live on TV and/or another live event on the web. On NBC, they rarely mentioned what was streaming on the web during their broadcasts and I had little luck watching anything on their flawed site anyway (not surprising, since Microsoft was involved). It seemed that NBC's website was merely an excuse to air very little on live television. Considering webcasts are zillions of dollars cheaper than TV broadcasts, NBC's greed once again became apparent. No matter how good (or, in the case of NBC, bad) the webcasts were, however, I have little interest in watching TV on my computer. It's fine for catching a specific moment - such as the last few minutes of a medal event - but there's no way I'd ever sit in front of the computer for hours to watch
anything. And, even if I wanted to watch on the web, who's to say I could? Some people work and can't be using their computers to watch sports - sports that should be on TV. Others just don't have the computer power or broadband internet. Webcasts should complement live TV broadcasts, not replace them.

Despite a slide in the quality of CBC's Olympic coverage, they were still far, far better at it than NBC. NBC still hasn't got it through their big, fat, thick skulls that people
will stay up late and/or get up early to watch live Olympic events on broadcast television. Why they don't seem to want to air them is just beyond me. Sure, they're in it to make money and, thus, want to have the biggest audience they can, but it seems to me that if people are willing to watch, they should be willing to broadcast. For every single Olympic Games that NBC has covered (regardless of the time zone), message boards have been rife with complaints about NBC's lack of live coverage. Don't they care about what viewers want? Oh, silly, silly, me...of course they don't. Viewers are just too stupid to know what they want [roll eyes here].

If you like live Olympic coverage as much as I do, get a dish, move close to the Canadian border or camp out at a bar that has satellite to watch them on Canadian television. Bonus if you can get European broadcasts as well. Don't bother with NBC. They just don't get it and, it seems, never will.

Some Olympic highlights:

Opening Ceremony Coverage
I actually got a little tired of the "spectacular stupdendousness of the spectacle" and became desensitized to the truly jaw-dropping performances, effects and engineering marvels (tempered some when I learned that some effects were digitally enhanced and the little girl singing was lip-synching because the actual singer "wasn't pretty enough"). I still watched both CBC's and NBC's coverage, however. First up was live coverage in the morning on CBC. Despite mistakenly identifying Guinea as Equatorial Guinea and mispronouncing some countries' names (funniest was "powpow" for "Papua"), CBC did an adequate job, keeping the blather and commercial breaks to a minimum. Until the Canadians came in the Parade of Nations, that is. Then CBC's commentators seemed to lose their focus and started babbling incoherently and, like the Games in 2004, called up obscure Canadian athletes on a cell phone, torturing us with horrible audio. In the process, incoming nations were totally and completely ignored. I was aghast at the extreme disrespect. Twelve hours later, NBC's coverage in primetime was much better. Not only were the camera angles and audio better, they, too, kept the blather to a minimum and were more adept (and accurate) at explaining what was going on than CBC, despite the incessant commercial breaks. During the Parade of Nations, every single one of the 204 countries was given their due, even after the U.S. entered the stadium. When the commentators did
babble a little, they still managed to mention the incoming country, and the excellent graphics on the screen filled in any gaps with information on: the country, its population, its location, who the flag-bearer was and his/her sport. If they just could've stopped themselves from mocking the athletes' attire (something NBC always does for some strange reason), it would've been worth sitting through.

Silliest Comment
"It's always yesterday somewhere when you're here." (CBC, during the Opening Ceremonies)

Best Example of Good Sportsmanship
American hurdler Lolo Jones. Devastated after tripping on a hurdle and costing her the gold medal in the 100 m, Jones collected herself and, surprisingly composed, gave an interview to NBC, interrupted it to congratulate silver medalist Sally Mclellan of Australia who happened to be walking by, then continued. Classy.

Best Example of Bad Sportsmanship
Swedish wrestler Ara Abrahamian. Enraged with a judgment call that cost him the gold medal (leaving him with a bronze), Abrahamian first shouted at the referee, then raged and shrieked at the judges. During the podium ceremony, he left the podium, took off his medal, put it on the ground, then walked off in a huff (he was subsequently disqualified, stripped of his medal and banned from the Olympics). If the judges were wrong (many think they were), he could have filed a formal protest which has specific procedures to follow. Pitching a hissy fit isn't one of them. Big baby.

Lamest Event
Beach Volleyball. This is not a "sport"; it's a summer pastime. If I want to watch beach volleyball, I'll go to the beach (duh). Far too much precious Olympic airtime was wasted on this stultifyingly dull non-sport, making me thankful once again that I had different TV network choices. If something this lame is an Olympic sport, they should also have Olympic Croquet, Lawn Darts and Horseshoe Throwing. I'd rather watch any of those than beach volleyball.

Best Commentator
Steve Armitage (CBC swimming events). Regardless of whether the event was a preliminary heat or a medal final, Armitage's enthusiasm and excitement over any good race (no matter the country or swimmer) was very infectious.

Worst Commentator
Bob Costas (NBC anchor). Why, oh why, is this fool still covering the Olympics? Sporting a ridiculous Howard Cosell hairdo (which mysteriously disappeared after the first night's broadcast), Costas' constant idiotic comments make a mockery of every Olympics. He must go.

Best Feature
CBC's "Volume Up" - a series of video montages set to music. The one I enjoyed the most was a collection of crashes, falls and spills set to "Don't Fear the Reaper" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMt_qS-iC6E)

Sport I Never Thought I'd be Caught Dead Watching (never mind enjoying)
Fencing. Rarely seen on TV, I know it was only broadcast because of the backstory (50-year-old Jujie Luan who had won gold for China in the 1984 Olympics - its only fencing medal until this year - was competing for Canada), but I still found the oddly understated fencing matches fascinating (and took childish delight in seeing their masks light up when they got a point).

Best Moment
Jamaica's Usain Bolt's world-record win in the 100 m sprint. There's been much talk about Bolt's showboating after the race, but the only one who took offense was IOC president Jacques Rogge (who chastised Bolt's behavior, saying it was unsportsmanlike). Bolt made history; there's nothing wrong with the way he acted after the race. From what I've read, both fans and athletes alike found Bolt's jubilant display charming and funny and totally justified, not offensive.

Best Website
CBC. When I visited the websites a week before the games started, NBC's was slow as molasses and bewildering in its organization; CBC's was quick and easy. Once the Games began, NBC's sped up; CBC's slowed down; both were reasonably well-organized. However, CBC takes home the gold for having detailed broadcast times of individual events (both on-site and in a downloadable version), easily-accessible streaming video (live and bug-free) and, marvel of all marvels, a toll-free phone number and e-mail link for "all your questions"! NBC, on the other hand, had no specific times for individual events, the streaming video was so buggy I never managed to watch a single event and they never, ever
want to hear from those pesky, stupid viewers - never mind during an important event like the Olympics - so it was no surprise that I couldn't find a single "contact us" link anywhere on their Olympic site.

Thunks on the Head
To CBC for repeating the same events over and over and over again (sometimes airing the same thing 3 or 4 times a day). With all that was going on, they could've aired something different all day long.

To NBC for once again interrupting their commercial coverage to air (taped) Olympic events. Hey, NBC, two words: "product placement".

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