Olympics torch bearer atop the London Eye: Good investment?
An Olympics torch bearer atop the London Eye. Photo by Reuters
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I had been looking forward to watching the 2012 Olympics with great enthusiasm, and not just for the usual reasons. My son is a huge sports fan, loves viewing the games, and I’ve watched them with him every year in Israel. I’ve always enjoyed them, but at the same time, I felt like something was missing.

The coverage was certainly comprehensive in Israel - with access to the various European sports channels, there were always multiple live events being broadcast at any given moment. While watching the Israel-centric coverage was certainly the most popular choice, it wasn’t the only option. But I still felt a certain level of nostalgia for the American network coverage during my childhood and young adulthood, of the games on ABC and NBC, with the emotionally manipulative but moving background stories on the athletes and what they went through to get to their big moment, and the background and the color that only big-budget coverage could supply. And yes, I confess, it was fun growing up watching my country win medal after medal, than the all-too-common Israeli experience my son was familiar with - getting one’s hopes up for an Israeli medal and then, with rare exceptions, facing disappointment.

That’s why I was really excited that this time, the games would be taking place during a summer stay in the United States. Finally, I thought, my Israeli-born kid would get to experience the U.S. Olympics as I had.

Well, he did. And the verdict is a big thumbs-down. Like so many other U.S. viewers, he was utterly disgusted with the decision of the American network that owns the games, NBC, to delay broadcast of the big moments of the games until prime-time evening viewing. Even then, footage of the various competitions was sliced and diced in the editing room with an overwhelming focus on the U.S. and the elimination of important developments for other countries. You barely had any idea that there were any other countries competing in the Olympics unless they were competing against the U.S.

Was it always so jingoistic and fractured? Or had my perspective simply changed after experiencing the games in Israel so many times?

One big change had nothing to do with where I lived. Delayed coverage is a much bigger problem in today’s connected world. Once upon a time, it was easy to remain ignorant of race and competition results that had taken place hours earlier. No more. In the age of Facebook, Twitter, and news updates sent to my email it was impossible not to have seen the results of the big events online before watching them on television - a veritable festival of spoilers - leaving no suspense for the viewer. Sure, people watched them anyway, as NBC’s high ratings proved. But the experience was a lot less fun and exciting.

The real peak of my personal frustration with the NBC coverage came to a head with the broadcast of the closing ceremonies. After a couple of decades of Olympic viewing in Israel, I was already unused to watching important ceremonies chopped up into chunks and broadcast between long blocks of commercials. I’ll be happy if I never see another Coca-Cola or McDonald’s ad again.

But this really took the cake. In addition to cutting out whole pieces of the event - nobody in the U.S. got to see either Ray Davies or Kate Bush perform - NBC decided to postpone the end of the ceremony even further. Shockingly, the U.S. cut away from the closing ceremony before its conclusion in order to air an episode of one of its new comedy shows for the new season and let local stations broadcast their network news before the final performance of The Who that marked the real finish of the ceremony.

One wonders if the excellent ratings that the NBC enjoyed with its Olympics coverage will mitigate the general anger being directed their way by the American public, and their growing intolerance of tape delays. All you have to do is go to the anti-NBC campfire on Twitter, called #nbcfail to witness the outpouring of fury. With the negative backlash this year, one seriously doubts that they will get away with so many delays and editing the next time around - certainly not in four years in Rio, and even not in two years at the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

For our family, it doesn’t really matter. After my son declared that the U.S. viewing experience ‘stinks,’ I know where we’ll be watching future games. Medals or no medals - Israel is the place to be.