Saturday, July 28, 2012

How NBC Ruined the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony for Americans

I will admit it. I am not a big fan of the Summer Olympics. There are very few sports that take place at the Summer Olympics that interest me. The few sports that do interest me in the Summer Olympics (football/soccer, archery, fencing) are either broadcast at odd hours of the day or on channels I almost never watch. That having been said, I generally do watch the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympic Games. I have always been drawn to spectacle and I enjoy seeing the different ceremonies countries have to offer. Unfortunately, this year NBC decided to spoil the one Summer Olympics opening ceremony to which I had been most looking forward: the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

The first mistake NBC made was that it did not air the London 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony live, nor did it offer a choice for live, online streaming. I rather suspect that NBC offered a tape delayed broadcast of the opening ceremony so that they could air it during primetime, that period from 7:00 PM Central to 10:00 PM Central when American television ratings would be their highest. That having been said, I don't see that streaming the event live online would have had an appreciable impact on NBC's primetime ratings. Many, perhaps most people, would elect to watch the tape delayed broadcast on NBC, so that the network would still receive appreciable ratings.

As to NBC's reason for not offering an option of live streaming for the London 2012 Summer Olympics, in an email NBC claimed that Olympics Opening Ceremonies "...are complex entertainment spectacles that do not translate well online because they require context, which our award-winning production team will provide for the large prime-time audiences that gather together to watch them." I must most strenuously disagree with this. I think the average person could grasp most of last night's ceremony without NBC's production team putting it in context for them. Contrary to what NBC apparently believes, viewers are not stupid.

Indeed, it seems to me that many in the audience who tuned into watch the opening ceremonies of the London 2012 Summer Olympics would have been more than happy had NBC's "award winning production team" not been on hand to provide "context." Early in the ceremony Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira kept their commentary to a minimum. They simply explained what Beefeaters were and what the National Health Service was and so on. As the night went on, however, they began to talk more and more.  They started stating the obvious again and again, and even talked over songs. A low point came during a tribute to Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web. As Sir Timothy was on the stage, Meredith Vieira commented, "If you haven't heard of him, we haven't either." Matt Lauer, apparently equally oblivious to Sir Timothy's importance, not simply to Great Britain, but the world, joked, "Google him." Now I realise not everyone probably knows who Sir Timothy Berners-Lee is, but to me for a newscaster not to know who Sir Timothy is would be tantamount to not knowing who William S. Paley or Samuel Morse is. When you are in the communications business, you should know who the innovators in communications history are! While I suppose some might forgive Mr. Lauer and Miss Vieira for not knowing who Sir Timothy was, not many seemed to forgive their banal banter. If you were on Twitter last night you could not escape the tweets last night asking them to be quiet.

Meredith Vieira disappeared in time for the Parade of Nations, at which point Bob Costas took over. Sadly, Matt Lauer would still be present. While Bob Costas offered interesting bits of Olympics trivia and bits of trivia for each country, Matt Lauer continued to utter the most asinine things. Perhaps the worst example was when Matt Lauer mentioned that Madagascar was associated with a well known animated movie. Both Bob Costas and Matt Lauer committed what in my opinion is a nearly unforgivable sin in broadcasting events such as this. They talked over a musical performance. Following the lighting of the flame, The Arctic Monkeys performed The Beatles' "Come Together."  Those of us who had been looking forward to The Arctic Monkeys were to be sorely disappointed. Messrs. Costas and Lauer talked through much of it! Fortunately, they were quiet when Sir Paul McCartney took the stage.

While, at least as far as Twitter was concerned, viewers were obviously unhappy with Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira's running commentary, it was not the worst mistake that NBC made in its broadcast of the London 2012 Summer Olympics ceremony. They cut out a performance of "Abide with Me" by Scottish singer Emeli Sandé that has been interpreted as either a tribute to the victims of the 7/7/2005 terrorist attacks on London or to those who have died in war. While the International Olympic Committee's media guide makes no reference to either the victims of the 7/7 attacks or the war dead, it seems to me that it was a big mistake on the part of NBC to omit the performance regardless. I rather suspect most viewers would have enjoyed the performance ("Abide with Me" is a lovely song and Emeli Sandé has a beautiful voice) and would have much preferred to see it rather than the interview Ryan Seacrest (who last time I checked is not a sportscaster) with Michael Phelps. The possibility that it was indeed a tribute to the victims of the 7/7 attacks (as it was so interpreted by the BBC) should have told NBC that it was not a good idea to cut it!

Now I realise that I sound a bit angry in this post, but then this is one of the Summer Olympics Games opening ceremonies to which I have been looking forward the most. I have been an Anglophile all of my life. What is more, England is the homeland of the majority of my ancestors. Naturally, then, I was looking forward to this year's opening ceremony more than I had been the 2008 Beijing Summer Gamers or the 2004 Athens Summer Games. What is more, this year's opening ceremony was being directed by film director Danny Boyle. Having directed some of my favourite movies (Trainspotting, Sunshine), I was intrigued by what he would bring to the opening ceremony. And I must say Mr. Boyle did an incredible job in directing the London 2012 Summer Olympics ceremony. I swear he incorporated every bit of British pop culture he possibly could (although he seems to have missed Doctor Who, The Avengers, and Fry & Laurie) in a ceremony that was very entertaining. I loved the film of James Bond escorting Her Royal Majesty the Queen and Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) performing with the London Symphony. Okay, I was bored a bit with the Parade of Nations, but then I have yet to see a Parade of Nations at an Olympics opening ceremony that was not a little dull.

In fact, it is because Danny Boyle did such a fantastic job in directing the Summer 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony that I was so disappointed in NBC's coverage of the event. I do not think NBC could have done a worse job if they had set out to play spoilsport with the opening ceremony. They aired the event on a tape delay so we could not see it as it was happening. Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira talked through much of it. Matt Lauer and Bob Costas talked as The Arctic Monkeys performed. They left out Emeli Sandé's performance.  I honestly hope that there is some means that Americans can watch the opening ceremony without Matt Lauer and Meredith Veiria's running commentary. And if there is not, then I really think it would behoove NBC to make one available. After all, in covering this year's Summer Olympics Ceremony, they let every American who watched it down.


Caftan Woman said...

The opening ceremony was broadcast live in Canada from 4:00 to past 7:00 pm. While our commentators can be slightly annoying at times (I think they feel like they're not doing their job if they are not talking), they did not speak over the musical performances and were certainly aware of who Timothy Berners-Lee was and why he was present in that portion of the event.

I am so sorry to hear that NBC did not allow their audience to see "Abide With Me" which combined Emeli Sande's haunting voice with a group of interpretative dancers. It was extremely moving, and would touch all audiences sadly accustomed to loss.

The network did a disservice to their audience and should be ashamed.

KC said...

I'm with you on your points, but the constant "context" was what really drove me and my husband crazy. History is one thing, describing what I can see with my own eyes is insulting. If only there were a way to filter them out!