NBC’s Olympic Monopoly Disservices Viewers


On August 21, the 2016 Olympic Games ended after months of speculation of whether Brazil was fit to host, with its slow construction time and the number of urban poor being ignored in the background. Despite conflicts that occurred—such as the Egyptian judoka who refused to shake hands with his Israeli opponent and the infamy of the U.S. men’s swimmers who vandalized a gas station—other stories made the games much more of a celebration. From Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhi, who challenged traditional taboo by mentioning her period and how it affected her performance, to Usain Bolt’s continuing legacy of dominating the sprints, much of the competition can be viewed positively.

But NBC’s coverage of the games has not been. NBC currently holds a monopoly over Olympic coverage in the U.S., owning the rights to publish content until 2032. They have restricted a multitude of videos on YouTube and no other source can stream footage in the U.S. In most cases, videos of the contests were trimmed to clips lasting less than a minute. If you’re a fan of long distance races, such as the 10K, it might be hard to find the race if you missed it. NBC’s official YouTube account only features short clips of Olympic competition. If you want to watch full length races like the 10K, you might be out of luck.

The Olympic Opening Ceremony did not set the stage for successful coverage. The ceremony was delayed by an hour in the U.S., in order to fit advertisements in at every other moment. With so much spent on purchasing the rights to the games, the broadcasting company had to earn back some of the money. Also less than pretty was the commentating during the ceremony, which involved an insulting joke about the country Djibouti and an overemphasis on the U.S. The camerawork did not align with the commentating either, displaying images of the subjects, such as American crowds, instead of the figures being discussed.

By promoting certain events and through tape delaying, NBC attempted to display the events that the United States would be competitive in, like swimming and gymnastics. Footage of women’s gymnastics—which took place at night—was delayed until the following day. But in a world of social media that runs continuously, the results had already been released, lowering the suspense of the competition and discouraging many from watching the games. Other sports were under-covered, such as the field events. One of NBC’s former analysts, Dwight Stones, went as far as to say that NBC’s coverage “ignored and belittled” the field events, such as the shot put.

Although the U.S. made its star athletes out to be the ones who defied the odds and fought hard to earn Olympic fame, it ignored many of the international stories to celebrate, such as content revolving around tennis singles champion Monica Puig, the first Puerto Rican to win gold. Stories about athletes from across the world and those that had smaller fan bases were also neglected.

Most of NBC’s decisions were commercially-oriented, with an obvious frame of U.S.  patriotism. While all media companies must appeal to their viewers in order to sustain themselves, NBC appeals to its viewers to a nauseating extent.

NBC’s product cannot be ignored as one that does not embody the international spirit of the games. The way NBC has a monopoly over coverage of the games in the U.S. does not characterize the games accurately and does a disservice to U.S. viewers. By limiting the scope to one company, NBC controls coverage in an authoritarian style, preventing access to the games despite technology that should make access easier than ever.

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