"If pissing off the Olympic audience were an event in London, NBC would be winning gold, silver, and bronze, every single night," Derek Thompson wrote in the Atlantic yesterday.
NBC has been facing a lot of criticism from the American public for its coverage of the London Olympics and specifically the limitations that are in place that do not allow people to watch events online without a cable package and do not even live stream events online.
Often other networks will release the results as they happen as they live-blog and live-tweet them, then announce them on air, spoiling the event and its outcome for viewers who have to wait to watch the events at a later time on NBC and its affiliate channels. The Games are also blocked on YouTube in the United States, while they are available in more than 60 other countries on the site.
Disgruntled Olympic viewers have taken to kvetching on Twitter with teases and jabs at NBC, but journalist Guy Adams used his account to seriously challenge their policy ... and then actually had his account disabled after one tweet that contained NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel's e-mail address. Despite the shocking limitation on free speech, Twitter is an official partner of the Olympics as narrator and ad-driver. Adams' fellow journalist Kevin Rawlinson tweeted: "My colleague @guyadams' Twitter account was suspended after @NBC complained about his tweets criticising the network's
#Olympics coverage." At the time of publication, Adams' account is still suspended.
NBC has had a monopoly on Olympics coverage since 2000, paying $1.18 billion for rights to broadcast exclusively for 2012 and a total package of $4.38 billion for the next four Olympics between 2014 and 2020. This year seems stricter than the rest, but it's just because technology has caught up. Pirate websites and smaller television audiences give NBC a very strong incentive to lock down Olympic content and charge for it.
Are they abusing this monopoly or are they executing smart business? It's both. In a time when content can be easily found free online, it's frustrating to face such a content lockdown for one of the most popular events of the year. Some of the magic of the Olympics is taken away when updates are available before the actual event is streamed and viewers should be rightfully annoyed. But it's still just simple economics: there's a strong demand, and NBC has all of the supply, plus a billion dollar bill to pay off.
As Americans, we feel entitled to free content and free access to it, especially as the young, tech-savvy generation grows up but the television business model is proving hard to break. Enthusiasm for the Olympics is still very high and the patriotism is contagious; some people are breaking down to pay and for others, updates alone will suffice. This year's criticism may influence the 2016 Summer Games, but don't expect it to.