All-tape broadcasts sending Americans to Web, CBC
NEW YORK (AP) -- Right about the time NBC's audience was being treated to a hard-hitting interview with the (gasp!) parents of the teen-ager who played a lead role in the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony, someone was winning the men's triathlon.
Someone else, right then, took gold in a shooting competition.
And Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe was probably relishing the world record he had set more than 12 hours before.
Not only were viewers who tuned in for Saturday night's telecast of the Summer Games kept from seeing many of the events, they weren't even told the results.
NBC's telecasts from the 1996 Atlanta Games were billed as "plausibly live."
These Olympics are, implausibly, taped.
NBC and cable partners MSNBC and CNBC are airing more than 400 hours of competition, but not a single second will be live. Most of what the network figures has the greatest appeal is being shown in prime time.
"If you have hundreds of millions of dollars on the table -- in the case of Sydney, $705 million in rights fees and $100 million in production costs -- you have to put this on to reach the widest possible audience," NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said. "You HAVE to."
Perhaps, but Ebersol's stewardship of the presentation of these Olympics is odd in this age of the Internet, 24-hour cable news channels and instant access to information.
On Sunday, NBC began its coverage at 11 a.m. EDT with a collection of stars from the NBA (to which NBC holds the TV rights) easily defeating China in men's basketball. Held for at least another eight hours was footage of three swimming world records.
"Plausibly live" is a term coined to describe the showing of taped material as if it were live, withholding results to heighten the suspense. This time, Ebersol is proud to point out, there's no fudging, because hosts are reading a disclaimer the first few days.
"As we begin our Olympic journey here, we have this program note: Here in Sydney, we are 15 hours ahead of New York City, 18 hours ahead of those of you on the West Coast," Pat O'Brien said at the outset of CNBC's first show. "And to present these Olympics at a time convenient to you -- that is, while you're awake -- the event coverage you'll see broadcast will be on tape."
The three channels are airing events up to 20 hours after they conclude because of the lure of prime-time advertising dollars; NBC has said it will turn a profit thanks to $900 million in ad sales.
What the network is also doing is sending plenty of Americans to the World Wide Web, the fastest way to get results, and some lucky Americans -- those who live in border cities such as Detroit and Buffalo or have satellite dishes -- to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., which is airing 288 hours of live coverage.
"This is the first full-blown Internet games, especially with the time delay being what it is. Two years ago, sports Web sites and the Internet in general were not what they are now," said Joe Ferreira, VP of programming and executive producer at CBS.SportsLine.com.
His site has conversations with athletes and detailed information about the venues; FoxSports.com has explanations of each sport's rules; and CNNSI.com has a multimedia Olympic timeline.
A Pew Research Center report released in June showed that since 1998, the number of people getting news from TV declined 8 percent, while the number getting news online jumped 10 percent.
But NBC is convinced that people are more interested in features about the Olympians than how the athletes fare.
"The Olympics are made up of sports that do not have a substantial following in the United States," Ebersol said. "If you put gymnastics, swimming and diving, or track and field at any time on American network television outside the two weeks of the Olympics, it would be beyond a miracle to do a 3 or 4 rating. Suddenly you put it on in the Olympics and it's a 20 rating.
"The results of the Olympics are not what truly matter to the vast majority of the audience. They're interested in the story."
That may be. Perhaps, though, the network's announcers should stop their ad nauseam use of the phrases "carpe diem" and "seize the day."
How about "carpe heri" -- Latin for "seize yesterday"?