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WNYers Get Best of Olympic TV Worlds


In Western New York, we have the best of both worlds when it comes to the London Olympics.

If we were home Tuesday afternoon, we could have turned on the local CTV affiliate out of Toronto to see swimmer Michael Phelps and the U.S. women’s gymnastics team make history on live TV.

If we were working or out enjoying the sun in the afternoon, we could have turned to the local NBC affiliate – Channel 2 – in prime time to see the much more theatrical taped coverage of the same historic events.

So we’re really not concerned about the national debate over whether NBC should be carrying everything on its networks live in the afternoon before it is carried on delay in prime time when it is 1 a.m. in London.

NBC has been hammered by some national bloggers who feel the network has made the wrong call in the technological age of social networks when it is nearly impossible to avoid knowing who won before the network starts its prime time coverage.

It is a silly argument, especially since NBC is streaming all events live and it is relatively easy these days to connect your computer to your TV. (I say that because even I can do it).

English: President George W. Bush poses for a ...

Michael Phelps: Greatest Olympian

The national slamming of NBC reminds me somewhat of all the local criticism of the Buffalo Bills for opting out of the new NFL Blackout Rule that would have allowed home games to be televised if 85 percent of the non-premium seats were sold.

Like the Bills in the blackout argument, NBC is making an economic decision to delay the big events to prime time. It spent $1.3 billion for the rights fees for the London Games and doesn’t want to risk losing any audience that could stand to cost it more in advertising and add to the already $100 million it expects to lose on the Games.

That’s pretty much the same reasoning the Bills have opted out of the new 85 Percent Blackout Rule. It doesn’t want to risk its season-ticket base and the revenue it provides.

The critics of the Bills and NBC have both argued their owners make enough money as it is so why not make their fans and viewers happy. That ignores their right to make money (or in NBC’s case lower losses) on their sizable investment.

I’ve seen some informal local unscientific polls that seem to support the Bills stand, though their critics get much more attention.

Similarly, NBC can point to its strong national and local ratings to claim that most American viewers support how they are doing things.

The London Olympics have had stronger than expected ratings and have outdrawn every day except Monday compared to Beijing in 2008 even though the network is streaming everything live this time around. NBC’s critics could argue the increased ratings when everything is being streamed live suggest that carrying events live on the networks wouldn’t hurt either. But the increasing number of viewers watching via streaming is relatively small compared to network viewership.

Monday’s audience loss comes with an asterisk because some of the Beijing coverage was live on the corresponding day four years ago and the events were more compelling.

Locally, Channel 2 has had strong ratings within the ballpark of Beijing despite NBC’s live streaming and CTV’s coverage. I’m told by network researchers that Nielsen no longer supplies Buffalo stations with the ratings for Canadian networks in the States. The Olympic ratings for Canadian stations have been historically low here. But Channel 2 has to be losing some viewership to CTV.

I would suspect that Tuesday’s national ratings for the delayed coverage of the historic wins by Phelps and the Fab Five women’s gymnasts will put NBC back on track. (THIS JUST IN: NBC averaged a 24.0 overnight rating, higher than the opening ceremonies and 4 percent higher than the same night in Beijing. Buffalo’s Channel 2 averaged a 20.2 rating, down from a 22.6 for Beijing).

Since I have the summer off recuperating, I’ve been able to watch a lot more of CTV’s and NBC’s coverage than usual.

My strategy is simple. I watch as much of CTV’s coverage live as I can and DVR the rest when I have other things to do in the afternoon. Then I come home and speed through the CTV coverage to see the important events before I DVR the NBC coverage. It makes sense to DVR NBC’s coverage, which after all isn’t live anyway. In that way, you can speed through the commercials and the parts of the competition that don’t interest you.

In any event, there are extra advantages to watching both networks.

With CTV, it is interesting to see how their announcers react to American victories or disappointments. The swimming play-by-play guy thought that Phelps had won the 200 butterfly for the third straight Olympics before he was out-touched for the gold by a South African swimmer.

“Michael Phelps makes history,” said the CTV announcer before quickly correcting himself. “No, he does not.”

“It was all on the touch,” added CTV’s female analyst.

“He is definitely not the dominate swimmer he used to be,” added the CTV play-by-play guy.

Phelps conceded that in an NBC interview with Bob Costas in prime time that aired after he was part of the winning relay team that gave him 19 Olympic medals, the most in history. Phelps added that he was just trying to enjoy himself more than he has in the past. And it showed.

NBC’s coverage of Phelps’ silver and gold Tuesday was much more dramatic than CTV’s coverage and included some terrific reaction shots of his mother, sisters and coach. There was a great shot of his mother thinking Phelps had won the butterfly, only to be told by one of her daughters he was second. The coverage of Phelps was great TV even if you knew the results of both races.

CTV gave the U.S. women’s gymnasts their due Tuesday afternoon, especially Jordyn Wieber, who became a sympathetic figure Sunday when she failed to qualify for the all-around competition because of a silly rule that only allows two competitors from the same company.

“She is a titan, an absolute titan,” noted a CTV announcer of Wieber, who performed splendidly.

CTV’s announcers were effusive with their praise of the Fab Five and made it clear much earlier than NBC that they had won the team title even before the final American had done her floor exercise.

“They’ve waited a long time to say it – the United States has won the gold,” said CTV’s announcer. “The Fab Five were fabulous. It is the first time since 1996 the U.S. has won the Olympic team competition.”

Once again, NBCs coverage was more theatrical and dramatic, focusing on the parents in the stands whose facial reactions illustrated they were with their daughters every step and misstep of the way.

NBC tried to put more suspense into it than there was. But, hey, that’s the American way.

To its credit, the “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” noted 90 minutes before NBC’s prime time coverage started that since history was made it had to tell viewers about the Phelps and the Fab Five’s wins after warning those who didn’t want to know they were about to do so.

I’m not sure that many Americans who didn’t want to know were upset if they accidentally discovered who won from Williams or earlier from the social networks and the sports networks whose job is to give news when it happens. They social and sports networks shouldn’t and don’t have to worry about spoiling things.

NBC’s coverage has been so strong and compelling that even knowing doesn’t take away from the enjoyment most of the time. NBC’s ratings confirm that.


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11 responses to "WNYers Get Best of Olympic TV Worlds"

  1. Alan Bedenko says:

    1. The Canadian cable companies provide their subscribers with the HD signals for Buffalo-based network affiliates. It would be swell if Time Warner Cable reciprocate and provide the HD signal for CTV and CBC.

    2. Last night, NBC showed the women’s gymnastic team’s performances which led to a gold medal. Problem was, they stopped at balance beam and promised to return to the floor exercises – the last event in the program – later in the show. Why is that a problem? It was already about 10:45 pm, and not everyone can stay up until midnight on a weeknight to watch the Olympics. This is another example of NBC’s tape-delay fail.

    • Tina says:

      I agree with you totally! Between the endless commercials and the back and forth between 2-3 events it gets frustrating to say the least. Of course, we all know why they do it and it certainly keeps the audience until midnight,exactly what they want but like you said not everyone can stay up that late to watch. It is a blatant disregard for the viewers all in the name of money and profit.

    • alanp says:

      Good points. I understand your pain. However, ratings typically go up at the end of the broadcast in other time zones. Remember, not everyone lives on the East Coast. Channel 2′s ratings were higher from 11 p.m. to 11:45 when the competition was over than it averaged for the night. So people stay up here.

  2. javi says:

    It IS a big deal with this time difference, and with the state of EVERY station having a ticker feed, twitter, Facebook etc., it IS almost impossible to learn the results early. It takes a bit of discipline, but I just block everything out when I’m working at Dish. I put my headphones on right after I set the DVR to record. Then, when I get home, my Hopper has all the Prime Time shows recorded on my Hopper HD DVR. I can record up to 6 live HD programs at once, and with the 2TB hard drive (2,000 hours) I don’t have to worry about scheduling conflicts and lack of space. The Hopper lets me watch more Olympic coverage than ever; I just have to be oblivious throughout the day so I can fully enjoy it!

  3. Stillreadin says:

    Alan, I do not think Fios subscribers have access to any Canadian stations, which could also explain the high ratings for all the NBC stations this time around. I wonder if Verizon is getting complaints on this–if that is the case. If FIOS does include CTV — can you list where? Thanks!

  4. stillreadin says:

    Thanks Alan–I would be curious as to what their current market share is. Have you checked the numbers recently? I am surprised by how many people seem to have gone to FIOS over the last 2 years or so–especially in the northtowns. Very aggressive expansion.

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