It’s a toss-up which of this summer’s Olympics controversies will be the one most remembered. Twitter’s censorship (er, enforcement of terms of service) of an NBC critic and Empty Seat-gate are strong contenders. But for me NBC’s decision to tape-delay and edit live events after bragging that it would provide unprecedented real-time online access takes the gold.
Somehow our emotional attachment to television — and not video — remains incredibly strong. How else to explain the torrent of hate begat by NBC’s online blackout and broadcast delay of the Olympics opening ceremony in a day and age when alternatives and workarounds abound and time-shifting itself is considered a basic human right?
No, this feels like an “Occupy TV” moment: We, the 99 percent are galled that NBC won’t give us what we want when we want it, and that NBC is doing it because of a profit motive that requires it to manufacture appointment TV.
Over the weekend, Dan Levy, of sports site Bleacher Report, tweeted: “Folks, to think NBC cares about our complaints is ridiculous. They don’t care about sports fans. They care about ratings. We knew this.” NYU professor and media watchdog Jay Rosen tweeted in response: “Have you ever noticed how often people use the word ‘ratings’ as a synonym for ‘…so just shut up.’”
NBC can, more or less, do what it wants with the games as it paid $1.2 billion for them. Its goal is to make a profit despite the eye-popping licensing fee and the tens of millions more in production costs. It is about the ratings, like it or not.