Can We Just Get One Thing Straight: NBC Did NOT Air Much of The Olympics During Primetime


There’s a big article in the NY Times today called "Timing Is Everything at the Olympics: How NBC Put Some Big Events Into Primetime."

Over and over again the NY Times implies that gymnastics and swimming events aired during primetime with phrases like this:

"Getting American stars like Shawn Johnson to perform live in primetime…."

"Switching swimming and gymnastics to prime time was not the biggest scheduling coup…."

The article is quite long.  There’s not a single mention of the tape delay issue nor is there any mention of that fact that most of these events aired late night, not primetime.

Ratings success aside, it’s irksome that NBC is still promulagating this myth.  It’s a myth that started at least at TCA this summer when Dick Ebersol cited his reasons for the west coast tape delay.

"[West Coast] viewers don’t want to see the key events of the day happening at 4 or 5 o’clock their time. They want to get home and watch them, and that’s why there’s a delay on the West Coast."

Fact:  the accepted industry definition of "primetime" is 7-11p.m.

Fact: the accepted industry definition of "late night" is 11:30p.m. and later.

Fact: popular events referenced in the NY Times article and repeatedly stated  to have aired during "late night" and not "primetime."  or, at best, on the very fringe of primetime.

The Michael Phelps/men’s 4×100 relay aired at 11:30a.m.  Women’s gymnastics all-around aired after midnight until 1a.m.  The awards ceremony did not take place until 1:15a.m.

Another big showdown - Americans Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers against Brazil’s Marcio Araujo and Fabio Magalhaes in the men’s beach volleyball gold-medal match began at 11 pm/ET. 

The gold medal Beach Volleyball match featuring Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh began live at 11 pm/ET, on NBC.

Phelps "big 8" moment - the 4×100 medley relay which eventually aired around 11p.   Technically, primetime ENDS at 11p.m.

Men’s team gymnastics - one of the most exciting I’ve ever watched - aired "late night."

Here TV Guide’s Matt Roush has something to say:  "It boils down to a single, simple word: Greed," said Roush, exhausted like the rest of us from staying up so late, "I don’t remember as a kid being forced to stay up until midnight to watch Olga Korbut become an international sensation at 1972’s Munich game….NBC will do whatever’s in its best interests to maximize its $894 million investment in securing the rights to these games. That means extending its prime-time coverage until at least midnight (and usually running over a bit) each weeknight, and in classic show-biz fashion that means saving the best for last….But really, NBC, would it have killed you to give us a break and show some of these marquee events before the witching hour?"

NBC’s decision to air the Olympics on the West Coast on tape delayed basis by three hours remains something of a mystery.

NBC has asserted heard over and over (and over again) that this decision was made for the convenience of West Coast viewers so they could watch the Olympics during primetime hours when they get home from work.

The tape delay and airing of important events at midnight makes no sense on so many levels and there has been such outcry and NBC has so stubbornly stayed with the tape delay, that I’ve started to believe that NBC is locked in for reasons they are loathe to disclose.

I actually made a determined effort to understand the NBC perspective and to get some clarity on the subjet. 

Last week, I contacted NBC11, the San Francisco Bay Area affilliate.  I wanted to understand the impact of the tape delay from their perspective.  President and General Manager was in Beijing but Vice President of Programming & Creative Services Jim Monroe took my call.  He was exceedingly gracious…but mum.  He referred me to NBC Sports Communicaton. 

Spokesperson Gregg Hughes called me back, after 5p.m.on Friday ET.  (No rest for the weary, clearly.)  Hughes, again, was exceedingly gracious and he was at least willing to say this much on the record.

"There are a myriad of television, technical and financial issues that preclude any network from time-shifting or altering the coverage seen in various parts of the country on an event of this size."

During a panel touting the Olympics at the recent TCA press tour, NBC executives addressed their rationale for the west coast tape delay.

One of the first questions from a reporter was about the west coast tape delay.

"Live on the East Coast," asked one reporter, "so that means tape delay on the West Coast? "

Here’s how Dick Ebersol replied:

It’s live on the East Coast and in the Central time zone, which is roughly 81 to 82 percent of all the households in the United States. Historically, we have always shown the Olympics on tape on the West Coast. We have repeatedly done significant testing or polling, if you want to call it that, on the West Coast. And they have told us — the viewers have repeatedly told us that the vast majority of them, well in excess of 80 percent, want to see the Olympics when they’re available to see the Olympics. They don’t want to see the key events of the day happening at 4 or 5 o’clock their time. They want to get home and watch them, and that’s why there’s a delay on the West Coast. And you know what?  Strangely enough, in every Olympics that David or I have done, going back to 1992, every Olympics, the audience on the West Coast over-indexes against all the other regions in the United States.  They love sports so much, and they know when they want to watch it, and that’s in primetime."  Curiouslym I ran across this mention of my hometown, Keokuk Iowa.  Apparently, eastern Iowa - solidly midwest -  was also watching the games tape delayed. hmmm.Alas, I deduced from Ebersol’s remarks that many West Coast viewers would be either at work or commuting home (4-5p) during the live airing.  Hence, tape delay certainly seemed to be the only real hope of watching the Olympics on television during the preferred prime time hours. And Ebersol was right.  I DID and DO want to watch during primetime on television in HD.But that’s not how the coverage actually panned out.  I was just as surprised as the next viewer to discover that popular Olympic events aired exceeding late on the West Coast, and not during primetime.  To reiterate my case in point:The women’s gymnastics all around - always a popular event - was still on air at midnight.  It  was a down to the wire contest and some of the most exciting moments aired after 12:30 a.m.  The medal ceremony was held at…1:15 a.m. By any stretch of the imagination, 12:30a.m. is not primetime.  By any stretch of the imagination, these are not the times "when" viewers want to watch Olympics.If NBC’s own research shows that an "excess of 80 percent, want to see the Olympics when they’re available to see the Olympics," then why has the network stubbornly clung to their  policy of West Coast three hour delay?

NBC filled much of West Coast primetime with quite a lot of filler, especially the fried scorpian-eating, Panda-visiting Mary Carillo puff pieces.  All of this could have been lopped off in the interest of airing events live on the West Coast. was also  frustrating to hear NBC Olympic spokesperson Brian Walker when explaining why the Phelps race wouldn’t be aired live on the west coast:“The situation will remain the same as it has for all of our prime-time broadcasts,” Walker said. “The reason that we’re showing this in the normal prime-time patterns on the West Coast is because this is when the majority of people are available to watch.”11p-1:30a.m. is not "normal prime-time pattern" by any stretch of the imagination.