How Apple, Microsoft can stop NBC's Olympic contempt

While NBC continues to receive deserved criticism for its Olympic myopia by refusing to show events live on TV, it's the advertisers who are complicit and therefore have the power to change NBC's habits.

Chris Matyszczyk
4 min read
Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

If you watched Ryan Lochte's gold medal-winning swim live, you were in the vast minority. Or you simply don't live in the U.S.

While so many in the world, regardless of what time it was in their parts, watched and enjoyed, Americans could only watch online, and then hope their browsers wouldn't seize up -- a problem reported by readers, and experienced firsthand by yours truly.

Naturally, complaints have rained down on NBC like frogs at the end of "Magnolia."

Those who understand sports and the world have been quick to condemn. The Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki, for example, tweeted: "Can't believe they didn't show Phelps Lochte live. Now, we all know who won. This is frustrating."

Some have even called for an absolute boycott of NBC in the evenings.

Yet, when the events are finally shown on TV, all accompanied by the violins of tension and the commentators of invention, did you notice whose money is being spent in the ad breaks?

Apple has taken the opportunity to launch the brains of its Geniuses into the public consciousness. Microsoft has pushed IE9. HP seems to have advertised something too.

Yes, the money from the future is being pumped into supporting the broadcasting habits of an acrid past.

How does this happen? In a very modern way. Everyone looks at numbers and is persuaded that they'll force more viewers into evening time slots, thereby making those slots more valuable.

Some, though, might find the logic a little troubling. NBC hasn't tried it any other way. There is this desperate assumption that treating the American public with contempt is the only way to make money out of the American public.

NBC is crowing that its ratings are vast -- yes, vaster than ever. But isn't that a little like putting your hands around someone's throat, squeezing hard, and marveling that they can't breathe?

Meanwhile, Apple, Microsoft, McDonalds, and the rest of the network's drinking buddies pour trebles all round.

Yet what would happen if these brands got together and, once the third vodka was poured, someone said: "You know, do we really need to piss people off this way?"

What if Apple or Microsoft -- or even both together -- decided to exclusively sponsor live TV coverage of all the events that people in the U.S might like to watch? What if they declared a recognition of people's annoyance?

These are brands for whom customers are really quite important. Mightn't such a thing have a positive emotional effect?

You'll tell me there are binding contracts. You'll tell me that it can't be done. And I'll tell you America is supposed to be the country where everything can be done, if the will is there and the brains are applied -- and, you know, benefits can be gained.

The current thinking is so ingrained, so contemptuous of the viewing audience, and so embarrassing to people overseas -- who marvel that Americans can't watch what happens, when it happens -- that perhaps some magical, revolutionary thinking might be applied.

There is no proof that running events live and then rerunning them for the evening audience yields less money. Especially when with social media, mobile, and other technological thrills, excitement can be built and then rebuilt.

It's true, as NBC will tell you, that everything is being streamed live for the first time ever. But that's not quite the same, is it? The fact is that NBC hasn't tried it the other way.

That fine blend of ignorance and fear that seems to plague corporate life doesn't seem to allow for another possibility.

Live TV transmission isn't terribly crazy, not even for America. ESPN wouldn't dream of presenting World Cup or Euro 2012 games on tape delay, without first showing them live. The network seems to appreciate what human beings would prefer. It's a quaint concept.

I have tried asking NBC whether it might reconsider its position. Ears appear to have been deaf thus far.

Yet not merely NBC but the advertisers should surely be embarrassed that the network announces the winners (because it's news, don't you know), while refusing to actually show the event.

Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Oddly, NBC's executive producer for the Olympics, Jim Bell, has taken to Twitter to try to respond to humanity. His efforts, while noble in their way, have maintained the myopia.

Approached by tweeters who would like a little understanding, Bell would like them to acknowledge that, because of the live-streaming, things have got better.

"How wonderful to have both options," he tweeted to James Poniewozik, in reference to viewers having the live-stream and the TV coverage.

Bell's definition of "options" is amusingly offensive.

So it's down to Apple, Microsoft, and the other friendly advertisers. They should pin the NBC people to a wall and explain the modern world to them. They should force them to stare into a picture of Mark Zuckerberg's face for three whole days.

Today's world, driven by technology, is a world of freedom, openness, connectedness, and communication. It's a world of instant happenings reverberating around the world. It's a world in which we know something has happened almost before it has.

It's not as if these fine tech brands would ever try to trap consumers into behaviors that might not give them absolute and instant freedom and joy.

Oh, wait.