Stop Holding Out, NBC

February 19, 2010

Some skier -- I think she won or something?

I love the Olympics. From curling to ice dancing to snowboard cross, as long as I can chant “USA!” and wear clothes normally reserved for the 4th of July, I’m all for it.

The Olympics, the ultimate example of athletes competing for the love of the game, are always full of compelling human interest stories. One of the biggest stories to come out of these Games is that of Lindsey Vonn, the American skier competing in five events who badly bruised her shin during a practice run and is questionable for many of her races.

NBC won’t stop talking about her – how she’s never won an Olympic medal, how she wrapped her leg in cheese to help reduce inflammation, how the weather affected her training strategy, and so on. With the spotlight glaring directly at Vonn, I would have expected NBC to show each of her races live, no matter what time they took place, and then show them again during primetime if need be. In the age of social media, anyone awake on Wednesday afternoon was bound to learn the results of her first race, alpine women’s downhill, upon its completion. And yet, NBC did not show the race live on any of its networks.

Vonn may still have three more races left in these Olympic Games, but given her injury, her first event (which she won, as I’m certain you already knew) might have been her best shot at gold. With all the attention NBC has given to her story, it shocks me that it did not show her event. If the network was able to show Michael Phelps’ events live from Beijing, where the time difference is far more challenging than the slight time change between Vancouver and most of the United States, why did I learn the result of the women’s downhill on Twitter?

In addition, the network, which paid $820 million for the rights to televise the Winter Games, has already stated that it expects to lose money on its investment.  While I am not suggesting that a middle-of-the-afternoon race could draw ratings at a primetime level, NBC has made Vonn’s story the biggest story of the games.  So, it is only natural to assume that the network would milk her races for ratings.

I might be overreacting. But from both an emotional and business standpoint, it simply does not make sense that NBC deprived viewers of the ability to watch Vonn’s opening race live. Next time NBC reads me the first few chapters of a story, I expect it to finish the book instead of allowing me to flip to the back and spoil the end. Or worse, have Twitter ruin it for me.