NBC's Olympics: Separating half-baked from half-faked

NBC has been dealing with numerous criticisms on its coverage. However, the technological fakery is less powerful than the scheduling manipulation.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Who would choose to be in NBC's PR Department this week?

I couldn't possibly accuse any of them of taking steroids, but could you blame them if they slipped something a little special into their noon smoothie just to deal with another sleepless night?

Many critics have been kvetching about technological fakery during the opening ceremony, when fireworked footprints were CGI'd for home consumption.

I'm not sure how the CGI increased our excitement.

However, the description from NBC's Matt Lauer was definitely breathtaking: "You're looking at a cinematic device employed by Zhang Yimou here. This is actually almost animation."

Actually, it was animation, wasn't it? It was literally an artist's impression, except this one wasn't trying to sell you a timeshare.

NBC's Bob Costas, who is very clever, must have spent many moments composing his CGI voiceover: "We said earlier that aspects of this opening ceremony are almost like cinema in real time. Well this is quite literally cinematic."

Would you have preferred: "Here's some animation to give you a more vivid sense of what they're seeing out there"? I think I might have.

Just to be clear, this is not CGI. CC Sister 72

All this reminded me of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics when the wondrous opening ceremony had, as one of its moments of high drama, an archer shooting a flaming arrow to light the Olympic flame.

Please don't tell anyone else, but he missed. The Spaniards had allowed for this possibility by rigging the flame's dish with so much gas that the arrow had to only pass somewhere near it for the flame to light up.

NBC has also suffered some slings and arrows by keeping the word "live" on the screen even on the feeds to the West Coast. Twice an hour, they remind you briefly that the pictures you're watching are, well, not literally live. In fact, they're not live at all.

Their defense is that this is no different from American Idol, which Westies also see on tape delay, with the occasional reminder that this is the case.

Please forgive me, but American Idol is to live Olympics what America's Top Model is to live NASCAR.

The reason why so much of sport still gets more than tolerable ratings is precisely because it is live. You get involved in it because it is happening right now. And love 'em or love 'em less, the folks at Fox try to make live baseball as live as it could possibly be, even identifying fans, managers and reluctant spouses engaged in the most spontaneous behaviors.

If you followed NBC's impeccable commercial logic, then surely Costas' favorite event, the World Series, should be on tape delay on the West Coast. Same goes for the Superbowl.

And if you think there's some jolly jingoism going on here, well, if I remember correctly, ABC and ESPN televised America's most popular international event, the World Cup, live. As in, you know, the thing you're seeing on screen is happening right now in some other country.

I know of no other country that would delay a sporting event that is happening live in the hope of expected commercial gain.

To me this is as odd as the fact that love seats are always so incredibly uncomfortable.

Still, NBCOlympics.com continues to be a source of utter Future World uplift. And that is why I must go. Argentina's finest field hockeyists are playing Great Britain online.

When I say online, I mean it's almost as if they were literally right there on my laptop. You know, cinematically speaking.

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