Monday, February 15, 2010

Left out of the discussion

Here I am, out on the island again. All alone in an unpopular viewpoint.

That is, to say, I'm just not very enthusiastic about the Olympics. Especially the winter version.

I know, I know. Everyone else in North America is always glued to the TV set when the Olympics come on. But there are a couple of reasons why I have trouble generating enthusiasm.

The first is the lineup of sports in the Winter Games. Mostly, it consists of a bunch of sports that I never even see on television, or care much about, the other three years and 50 weeks of the four-year period.

That's not to say I don't have admiration for every single athlete there. They are very talented, and many of them risk great danger in every competition (a point that was driven home just before the Games began on the luge course). Heck, you could ice skate down the ski slopes at times because they are so icy and fast. Many of the athletes can't make a living at their specialty, so they are practically amateurs doing it truly for the love of the sport. Not much of that around any more, and it's admirable. Plus, many of the sports are fun to watch on a basic level.

But it's difficult to become emotionally involved without some sort of historical context. Sure I'm rooting for the Western New Yorker, Steve Mesler, who is competing in the bobsled. He even writes a blog for our newspaper, which alone makes him one of my all-time favorites. (He's pretty good at the writing stuff, too.) And I'll probably record the medal rounds of hockey if I can't watch it in person. Otherwise, though, it's tough for me to generate enthusiasm for many of the sports. Who is the greatest practitioner of the biathlon in history, anyway?

Then there's the matter of NBC's coverage. With these Games in North America, at least a relatively good-sized percentage can be shown live in prime time (not that I can usually watch then, but that's another story). In other years, the results have been flashed throughout the media before anyone gets a chance to see the competition on tape delay. You have to have a very strong interest to watch a sporting event when you know the outcome beforehand.

The prime-time shows are also put together for maximum ratings power, which means appealing to more women. That's understandable when the network will lose millions this year on the coverage, but still frustrating. If a figure skater has a skate sharpened, it gets three replays on NBC. Meanwhile, the U.S.-Canada preliminary hockey game will be shown on MSNBC.

Then there's the matter of highlights. NBC doesn't really allow them on other outlets. That network calls that protecting its investment. I wonder if it's short-sighted. Could a minute or two on local sportscasts on the other channels promote the NBC broadcast as a whole? It couldn't hurt, could it?

That point really hits home when it comes to ESPN. The SportsCenter shows rely on highlights of events, and still pictures and commentary on Olympic events just doesn't cut it for them. What's more, ESPN has a tendency toward self-promotion (there's the understatement of the day), often giving preference in news judgment to shows airing on ESPN or ABC.

So we have the odd split of having one channel calling an event the biggest news ever, while another pushing it aside. Come to think of it, it's like the way Fox News and everyone else covers Tea Party conventions.

Once again, then, I'll probably be missing out on most of what the world is coming to. It's a bit lonely, but I'll cope with it.


John Fraissinet said...

While I generally agree with you, with strategies to avoid learning results, watching only the evening coverage is a time saver for a busy person. But, part of that strategy is to record with a DVR, so you can skip the sports you have no interest in (and the commercials also). I do find that short track skating, which is relatively new, is far more engrossing than typical speed skating. So, I do consider that an advancement along with half-pipe and ski-cross which are also slightly new wave. And,what's wrong with watching a full hockey game on a secondary cable channel? At least these Olympics are more "live" than in years past.

Glenn Locke, The Tall Thin Guy said...

Are the Olympics on NBC too? I've only seen hockey and curling on CNBC. Nobody cries after the games.