Final Thought on Olympics TV Coverage: How About One Show That Just Covered, Um, Sports?

After 16 days and approximately 482,394 hours of Olympics coverage on several thousand platforms, I have to say this about NBC and the Summer Games: More was less.


It was all there, somewhere, every minute of every event, and that's fine. It's great that when other viewers like taekwondo or table tennis as much as I like women's basketball or my wife likes gymnastics, they can see all of it.

But I also like to feel I'm keeping up with the larger flow of the Olympics - that I'm aware of the underdog rowing team that had a great race, or the first gold medal for Vietnam and Puerto Rico, but that I'm also seeing all the best moments from the marquee events.

Watching NBC's nightly prime-time roundup, the go-to spot for Olympics coverage, I felt less satisfied than I've felt in the past.

I know it's not easy for producers to find a balance that pleases both hard-core and casual sports fans. For me, the Rio shows too often felt a little disjointed and frustrating.


If I were running NBC Sports instead of sitting by myself at a keyboard, I'd do this. I'd put together a pure highlights show. I'd cherry-pick the best stuff and run it back to back to back. An Olympics version of ESPN's SportsCenter.

If NBC wants to keep its main show, that's fine. Put the pure-sports version on the NBCSports network. Don't want to compete with the main show? Fine. Start it at 10 o'clock.

I'd watch, and I have a feeling I wouldn't be alone.

I found this year's prime-time show frustrating in part because this Olympics had more sports than ever. While you won't convince me that BMX belongs and baseball doesn't, there was a whole lot of sports competition that evening-only viewers never saw.

Now I know there are some off-the-field stories that need covering. The "Rio is wack" story, mercifully, receded once the Games started, and yes, we did need to hear about the idiot swimmers, though maybe not as much as we ultimately did.

A more serious long-term issue, one that NBC executives have addressed, stems from what the network does with the fact that 55% of Olympics viewership is women.

These women, the network tells us, care less about the sports themselves than the "stories" behind them, and NBC plans its coverage accordingly.

I suspect that may be underestimating women's collective interest in actual sports, given the boom in participation. But even if it's true, I'm not sure NBC has found the balance between the "stories," which are fine, and the actual sports competitions, which are by definition the punchline of all the stories.


A few other points of frustration are, sadly, inevitable. Viewers of any event like the Olympics always have to put up with the cross-promotion for other network shows and personalities, which is why we saw a lot of folks like Ryan Seacrest and Billy Bush. Nothing against either chap, but they aren't who I personally tune in the Olympics to see.

And then were was one other area in which more was also less, at least for me: the sheer number of platforms.

I looked at the schedules a couple of days and felt like I needed my own Olympic training to figure out what was where at what time. I don't want to work that hard at something I'm watching for entertainment and relaxation, which is one reason I would like to have an evening roundup that rescues me. .

While I'm sitting here complaining, I should add that I don't underestimate the effort needed to cover something as sprawling as the Olympic games in a country that has logistical challenges.

I'm sure everyone at NBC Sports, from the social media desk to the field correspondents to the corner office occupants, is collapsing Monday morning in a wave of total, utter exhaustion.

At least they can take their victory nap with big smiles on their faces, because NBC says the Games made a pile of money, which in any corporate game is the real gold medal.


I do wonder, though, if the fact that "traditional" viewership declined might mean that in addition to moving to other platforms, some viewers found the main network coverage less compelling.

Even we relics of the 11th century know that the number of coverage platforms in future Olympics will only increase. It would just be nice if the center would hold.