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You want Olympic coverage, eh?

Filed in: games, media, Web, Mon, Aug 9 2004 10:26 PT

The Olympic Games (technically: the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad) start this week in Athens, and while I’ve been a huge Olympics fan since childhood, I’m also an American, which means I’ve suffered through the worst TV coverage in the world most years.

Four years ago, USA Today interviewed me based on a blog post I made on the same subject:

For the Winter Games back in 1998, I was glued not to CBS’ pathetic attempt at “coverage”, but to the CBC feed oat… er, out of Vancouver. I have $10 (American) that says that NBC’s three-channel coverage of the Olympics in Sydney this September still doesn’t have as many hours of live sports content as the coverage on CBC. NBC’s claiming 330 hours of coverage over 14 days — theoretically, 24 hours per day, split between NBC, CNBC, and MSNBC. I’m betting no more than half of that is actual coverage: the rest is filler. Any takers?

Well, this year, NBC is claiming 1200 hours of coverage, between NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo, Telemundo, its HDTV outfit, and the USA Network, part of its recent purchase of Vivendi. And I really want the coverage to be successful. But in order to do that, they have to get more, you know, sports into that 1200 hours. What we’re stuck with is a days-long personal chronicle, with hundreds of athletes’ stories, cued up just in time for their dressage or qualifying heat. I don’t want to see all of that. Maybe a little, but not all. I want to be able to track, say, the archery events, by watching all the athletes compete, not just how Jimmy from Colorado Springs overcame a hangnail days before the competition, and then his medal-winning performance.

I’m not going to be able to pick much to record, either, unless I cherry-pick shows for TiVo to record based on NBC’s Web site. The coverage shows up on my TiVo in 6-hour blocks. Not good. PVRblog has some ideas on how to get around that.

So I’m going to hope for the best, and if NBC once again dives headlong into the up-close-and-personals and 10-hour tape delays, I’ll have to see what CBC has to offer again this year. I’m lucky to be in a border state where CBC is available on cable, because their news and sports programming are far superior to what is available down here. It’s an added bonus to find that their coverage of the athletes isn’t nearly as nationalistic as ours, either.

If both of these plans fail, I will have to resort to the Web — but not in the way I wish I could. The International Olympic Committee has for years jealously guarded its content, even to the extent of threatening to expel the Norwegian licensee for inadvertently putting too much of it on the Web in 2000. The IOC sells the rights to the Games on a country-by-country basis, and their contracts prevent posting most 2004 content unless the traffic originates from the network’s broadcasting area. Want some of the BBC’s wide selection of Web feeds? You’d better be doing it over some bangers and mash. If you’re outside the UK, no video for you. An AP article titled Olympics to Have Broad Online Offering buries the lede, which is the hoops you’ll have to jump through just to get into your nation’s walled garden to watch what video is available.

Artificial borders frustrate me. If companies can operate across borders, then so can content. This is the first Olympics where filesharing of events is likely to be in full swing, but it is certainly not the last. I want to be sure to get the content I want, live or archived, wherever I may be from. And if I choose to watch it in Catalan, that should be fine, too. The IOC is an organization that celebrates the gathering of the world’s cultures in the physical world, and at the same time prevents it online. This is not the path we want the Internet to take.

So the opening ceremonies are on the 13th. Between now and then, I think that’s plenty of time to work out a good plan to BitTorrent our national feeds around. Perhaps by 2010, when the next contracts are prepared, the IOC and the broadcasters will get the hint that sharing their media with the world for two weeks every couple years isn’t such a bad thing after all. If they don’t figure it out by then, it could happen that someone will have figured it out for them.

3 responses to “You want Olympic coverage, eh?”

  1. Ian Gordon says:

    I say we just beat the networks into submission, take control and show the games like they are meant to be, LIVE AND WITHOUT COMMERCIALS!!! :-p

  2. Nicole Weeks says:

    I’d give just about anything to watch a live, or near-live, web feed of the Games. Someone in the UK could point their web cam at the tele, turn up the volume, and let people log in to watch near-live. Or perhaps someone has a circumventor URL set-up so that us in the States can watch the BBC web feed.

  3. Chris Cashen says:

    The networks and the IOC again show their contempt for our intelligence. Live is live; listen to any AM radio station and you’ll hear who won what hours before you can watch it. I hope someone in Great Britain has some good equipment and some time on their hands…

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