Could London Olympics' status as most-watched TV event in history actually hurt NBC long term?
So many pundits jumped on NBC's decision Sunday to delay an already time-delayed performance by The Who to schedule its oddball comedy Animal Practice inside the London Olympics' closing ceremonies, that I declined to join in the fun.
But the network now has announced that 219 million people watched the games over 17 days -- an average 31 million people per day, making their telecast the most-watched event in TV history.
(As the Washington Post astutely points out, that overall figure includes people who may have "sampled" as little as a few minutes of coverage over 17 days and 5,535 hours of coverage spread "across NBC, NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo, Telemundo, NBCOlympics.com, two speciality channels and a 3D channel".)
And I'm forced to ask the natural question:
Will NBC's many gaffes and blunders during the event actually hurt the network in the long run?
I ask, not because of the dumb stuff NBC did, like airing a Today show promo revealing swimmer Missy Franklin's gold medal win before the tape-delayed event was actually broadcast on an NBC platform.
Or because the network aired an Animal Practice promo featuring a monkey on gymnastics rings right after a glowing feature on African American gymnast Gabby Douglas (some viewers found that offensive because of historic prejudiced insults comparing black people to primates).
My question comes because of the decisions which the network made that constantly reminded viewers NBC's corporate priorities mattered more than anything.
In that regard, the closing ceremony broadcast stood as a stark example. One day earlier, NBC reversed its decision keeping the ceremonies off its webcast platforms -- allowing those with Internet connections and a cable or satellite TV subscription to watch the ceremonies when they happened, six hours earlier than the prime time broadcasts planned in the U.S.
This move seemed a response to the intense criticism of the opening ceremonies, which were not streamed online. Because NBC controls the TV rights on all platforms, its decisions on which events to delay until prime time, how to edit coverage and where to air events drew considerable scrutiny and criticism, immortalized in the Twitter hashtag #NBCfail.
The streaming decision looked like a rare case of the network listening to critics and making its presentation more viewer-friendly.
Then the ceremonies aired on NBC, and critics realized key performances were cut -- rockers Muse, who wrote the Olympics theme, The Kinks' Ray Davies, a second song by pop star George Michael all were zapped out of the lineup. And a half hour of Animal Practice, which pushed a rollicking performance by The Who back to 12:30 a.m. eastern time, was inserted.
Ratings won't necessarily measure the amount of bad will such a move might generate. People wanted to see The Who and the games in general. But while offering a huge platform of viewers, the Olympics also provided a tremendous load of witnesses to NBC's disregard for the viewer experience.
Inserting an hourlong Tom Brokaw documentary on World War II into in the first hour of prime time Saturday, or pre-empting a tribute to London terrorism victims in the opening ceremonies for a Ryan Seacrest interview with Michael Phelps, or the endless, irritating promos for mediocre comedies such as Animal Practice and Matthew Perry's Go On -- that's the kind of stuff that associates the NBC brand with irritation, corporatism and bad television.
So NBC and its affiliates should pop their champagne and bask in the glow of record ratings.
But they also might want to wonder if those figures also show just how many folks ended their Olympics experience impressed with games, but annoyed by the network that broadcast them.