The Anger Games
NBC's tape-delayed coverage of the London Olympics produced plenty of negative commentary in the printed press. (The Guardian bemoaned the lack of a live Internet feed, writing, "This is not the 1940s, when families gathered by the radio to hear news and serials.") But that was an unqualified endorsement compared with the reception the network received from social media.
The Twitter hashtag #NBCFail trended often in the early days of the Games, as the network faced 140-character attacks over its decision to edit the opening ceremony and tape-delay high-profile events such as swimming finals featuring Michael Phelps (above). The banal banter from opening ceremony anchors Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira also fell under this tag (Slate said the two "engaged in a reverse battle of wits, fighting it out to see who knew least"), and inspired its own memorable social-media feed: a Storify titled "Shut Up, Matt Lauer."
NBC's promise to stream all sports live from London did not curtail the criticism, but in the end the publicity surrounding the animus didn't hurt the ratings. NBC drew 219.4 million total viewers for the Games, topping the Beijing Olympics by 4.4 million viewers as the most-watched television event ever in the U.S. In the all-important prime-time slot, NBC averaged 31.1 million viewers, the most for a non-U.S. Summer Olympics since 1976.
Though NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus termed the complainers a "loud minority," he said he would consider modifying NBC's strategy for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the '16 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. But don't expect wholesale changes: By airing events on tape delay, NBC broke even for these Games after projecting a $200 million loss. "We have a responsibility to do the best we can for consumers, and we are respectful of that, but we also have to make sure we can make our investment pay off," said Lazarus, whose company paid $1.18 billion for the U.S. rights to the London Games. "I have seen a few people writing that the Olympics is a public trust. You know what? Give it to us for free and maybe we would do it differently."
ESPN's most valuable property underwent a dramatic makeover when the company announced last February that longtime NFL analyst Ron Jaworski had been cleared out of the Monday Night Football booth, leaving Mike Tirico and color commentator Jon Gruden as a two-man team. Why tweak the most-watched cable television show for six years running? So the network could ride the star of Gruden. The result was a less cluttered broadcast and more airtime for the ex-coach's insights into blitz packages, check-downs and other X/O nomenclature.
But Gruden's habit of over-the-top, often unmerited praise remains a major annoyance: This season he called Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo "a modern-day John Wayne" and hyperventilated about Bears quarterback Jay Cutler ("This gunslinger ... creates more plays for the Chicago Bears than Johnny Lujack did. Some of these throws take your breath away!") The bottom line for ESPN? The numbers are up. Through the first 14 weeks of the NFL season, Monday Night Football averaged 13.2 million viewers, up from 12.8 million at the same point last season.
A Tip of the Hat