I love the Olympics. I’m all for Citius, Altius, Fortius, especially if it doesn’t involve me sweating to achieve any of it. As long as I can watch the opening and closing ceremonies, track and field, the marathon and whatever event might include a Nicaraguan, I’m happy. This year was different, though. This year I partook on my first social media Olympic binge. I owe it all to #NBCfail.
Oh yes! I was one of those people that took to Twitter to mock NBC. With me, though, it wasn’t about the tape delay. I understand why the peacock network would not show us Michael Phelps’ final race live. He didn’t win his last medal during primetime, and that’s when networks can charge a premium for advertising. Take that, disgruntled audience! TV is not about you.
It’s about ratings, and that’s why American television networks continue broadcasting the Olympics the same way Roone Arledge did in the 1960s. Arledge, the mythical ABC Sports president, gave televised Olympics its character. Sports Illustrated once described him as “a benevolent despot,” who would select which Olympic sports and athletes warranted coverage. Bruce Jenner, for example, was an Arledge favorite because he was “photogenic.”
Of course, that was 1976. Now Bruce Jenner is as photogenic as a Kardashian chia pet. Moreover, Roone Arledge is no longer around. Yet his ideas about Olympic coverage still remain. But can networks still manage the Olympics like it’s 1976?
The answer is inconclusive. On the one hand, people watched the Olympics on NBC, as evidenced by the huge ratings the network obtained. Big ratings make networks happy, and they’re still the basis for the economic model of broadcast television in the United States. In other words, ratings have greater impact on what NBC will do with the next Olympics than disgruntled Twitter rants.
On the other hand, you can’t deny that Reddit, Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, and Virtually Private Networks (VPNs) have changed the ways in which many of us enjoy television. They make events like the Olympics into truly global happenings.
Why? It’s simple. In 1976, there was no practical way to bypass your local television network, unless you lived in range of some other country’s television signal. Now, there’s VPN, and even the Huffington Post had an opinion about it. HuffPo contributor, Jeff Jarvis, favored a service called TunnelBear. Networks should expect these services to become more popular in the foreseeable future.
There is something else as well. In 1980, when I watched my first Olympics, I could not blast NBC for squeezing a sitcom about a monkey into the Olympic closing ceremony, or cutting out Muse’s performance. This time, I could, and I did. (Real-life Tweet: NBC cut Muse performance because they weren’t singing “Call Me Maybe” #nbcfail)
Now, I’m not naïve. I don’t believe that tweeting can change a TV network’s business model, but it felt good to tell them off.
I really loved mocking the peacock network.
Cynara Medina is a visiting professor in the department of communication.