One of the questions you, as an Olympics-consuming adult must ask yourself, is: did I have a Twitter or Facebook account in July of 2008, when the Summer Olympics were held in Peiping? (That’s the way they spelled Beijing when I was in grade school.)
If the answer is “yes”, you’re probably not a bit disturbed at the way NBC is presenting coverage of the London Olympics. If the answer is “no”, you’re probably over 35, and you’re unhappy about all the spoilers being posted on social media.
Many years ago, we became an instant-gratification society. Can’t afford it? Put it on a credit card and get it now. Domino’s Pizza 30-minute delivery guarantee. Sentry Foods guarantee that if there are more than two people in the check-out line, they’ll open another register. (I think they let that one slide years ago.) Drive-up banking. H and R Block instant tax refund.
But, like any axiom, there are exceptions. Because of the way TV is programmed these days, we avoid “spoilers” until we’ve seen the program or episode. On any given Sunday night, my wife and I are now DVR’ing Breaking Bad, True Blood, The Newsroom, Mad Men (in season), Dexter (in season), Homeland (in season), Political Animals, Ice Road Truckers (guess which one of us watches that show), Real Housewives of New York (or New Jersey or Orange County or Beverly Hills – again, guess which one of us watches that one). Is it any wonder I gave up on Falling Skies and The Killing? Sunday night overload.
Sometimes, in fact, often, we don’t see a Sunday night show until Wednesday or Thursday night. Much of the TV we have decided to watch runs on Sunday night, and the DVR (with multiple tuners and the capability of recording more than one channel at a time) has made us the Program Director – just as the advent of the Sony Walkman (and the later mp3 players) gave the consumer the power of the radio station Program Director. You never have to wait to hear a song you like.
NBC paid about 1.2 billion dollars for the rights to televise the Olympics; NBC is a business; and businesses operate under a profit motive. Did NBC pay too much? Of course. NFL Football isn’t even sustainable; the aggregate television rights cost more than the money recouped through advertising, but - ya gotta have it. NFL Football was the true genesis of the Fox Network. (Not to be confused with Fox News, which was a virgin birth.)
I watched Super Bowl XLV, in February of 2011, in which the Pack beat the Steelers, from the comfort of my media room at home: 66-inch HDTV, 500 watts of surround sound, soft seat, cold beer, hot snacks. My wife was a few feet away and we were the only two (not counting the dogs) who were in the room, but I shared the experience, via Facebook and my iPad, with friends in Appleton, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis (and, everywhere else, for that matter). There’s just enough time between plays to type something like “that WAS NOT a catch” or “the ump blew that call”.
You can be angry about the Olympics spoilers that pop up on Twitter and Facebook, and you can shake your fist at NBC for not televising the Olympics the way YOU want it, but it’s not likely to change soon. The television business paradigm hasn’t caught up to the instant-communication realities of 2012. NBC is going to milk the marquee events for every dollar they can, time-shifting them to “prime time” when they can charge the highest ad rates.
There are huge changes ahead in the way live TV events like the Olympics will be televised, but I’m not smart enough to hazard a guess on what will be changed, and not stupid enough to hazard a guess on how they’ll be changed. I do think we’ll look back on the 2012 Olympics as the point where change began.