sports Uncategorized

Summon the heroes

As I’ve written before, I love the Olympics. I love the music. I love the faux-drama, manufactured and packaged by the broadcasters. I love the fact that, for two glorious weeks, I don’t have to decide what to watch on TV.

Most of all, though, I love the Olympics medal ceremonies. There’s something irresistible about about watching an athlete experience the pinnacle of his career live on TV. When that national anthem kicks in, the tears flow, and we get to piggy-back on the winner’s emotional high.

Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to find these medal ceremonies online. Even during the Olympics, NBC seems to delight in hiding them. And soon after the Games end, that network pulls its clips permanently.

I’m guessing that the broadcast rights lapse and revert to the Olympic Committee. But I can’t explain why the IOC doesn’t do a better job of curating this content online. Why not make all Olympic highlights—including the medal awards—instantly viewable online? Are they hoping to sell lame DVD box sets? That era is over. Is it too expensive to run this sort of video portal? Sell ads against the content, implement a subscription plan, or—heck—put them on YouTube for free.

But don’t shoot yourself in the foot by locking this valuable content in a vault somewhere. Don’t block your most enthusiastic fans from celebrating your product. Instead, make it easy to search, filter, play back, and share highlights from every tournment stretching back to the dawn of the television era. Let me watch all the women’s rowing medal ceremonies from the 2012 Games (for example), boiled down into a single, gloriously emotional playlist.

internet sports Uncategorized

Why is NBC’s Olympics video-streaming website so awful?

In the run-up to the 2014 Olympics, NBC tooted its own horn. Every event, the network boasted, would be streamed live, online. Viewers wouldn’t have to wait for the primetime broadcast or dodge social media spoilers all day. Instead, they could watch the drama unfold, as it happened, on NBC’s website.

What NBC didn’t explain is that the website would be maddening to use.

There are some minor quibbles we might have overlooked. Take the technical glitches, for example. Commercials interrupt the action at bizarre, seemingly random moments, and the video’s prone to constant buffering. And NBC employs “B team” announcers for its webcasts. These aren’t the top-notch commentators you’ll hear in primetime, but less-knowledgable, less-interesting foreign analysts.

But these are small-scale infractions, compared to the website’s cardinal sin: it’s utterly inscrutable and impossible to navigate.

NBC’s Olympics site includes no comprehensive menu for finding video streams. There’s no straightforward schedule you can click through to find your favorite event’s full replay. The search functionality is laughably useless. Even the overhyped “Gold Zone,” a daily stream that shows the best action as it happens, is difficult to find. Gold Zone’s URL changes daily, so you can’t bookmark it. Instead, you must somehow track down each day’s brand-new link. (Thank goodness for Twitter.)

Other video content is even harder to find. Take the medal ceremonies, for example. I’ve always loved seeing how athletes respond on the podium. They spend years toiling in obscurity, and then they get one moment in the sun. They’re sleep-deprived, homesick, and surrounded by patriotic fans and their family. When that anthem kicks in, strong emotions inevitably surface. This all makes for great TV drama.

But try—just try—to find medal ceremonies on NBC’s website. You’d think there’d be a “medal ceremonies” section—a single page dedicated to the heralded hardware handout. There isn’t. The only page I found, “Medal Ceremonies — Day One,” includes a broken video stream and an apologetic disclaimer: “This event has concluded; event replay will be available at 3:00 PM EST.” This, six days after “Day One.”

Why is NBC’s Olympics website so awful? The network spent hundreds of millions of dollars on its Games coverage. Why not throw a few million into UX design? Is the network really this inept?

I suspect not. My conspiracy theory: NBC intentionally borks its streaming site, so that viewers are forced to watch on traditional broadcast TV.

See, TV’s in a weird transition time. The writing’s on the wall: eventually all video will be online video. But the telcos are tough negotiators. They’re loathe to see their valuable satellite and cable customers cut the cord. So, they strike deals with the networks that prevent NBC (or ESPN or AMC) from streaming shows to non-subscribers. These days, you’re forced to authenticate as a cable or satellite customer if you want to stream your favorite shows.

And even if you can access online content, the networks would prefer that you didn’t. In terms of ad revenue, Internet video can’t compete with ‘broadcast’ television. More traditional TV viewers means higher ratings. Higher ratings mean higher ad rates. Higher ad rates make for more profitable broadcasts.

So it’s in NBC’s best interest to make the website impossibly frustrating. They’re hoping that you give up and turn back to the more reliable cable box. That way, the network can boast about its “forward-leaning” media strategy—without sacrificing its lucrative Nielsen numbers.

music sports TV Uncategorized

Bugler’s Nightmare

It’s high drama in concert band form. Brutish, martial timpani pound out a perfect fourth. A reckless cymbal crashes. Chimes toll out the measures. And then, with almost dizzying pomp, the brass enters and exults.

No, it’s not the official Olympics theme music; some lame hymn claims that title. But (at least in the American imagination) “Bugler’s Dream” is the Olympic soundtrack. That’s all the more impressive when you consider that Léo Arnaud didn’t compose the piece ‘til 1958. And “Dream” didn’t show up in an Olympics broadcast until ten years after that. Think of it: seventy-odd years without “Bugler’s Dream”! One wonders how the tournament survived those dark decades, its listless, “Dream”-less athletes too depressed to compete.

So maybe I should be grateful that NBC included the piece at all in their February broadcasts. After all, they haven’t always played “Bugler’s Dream” for the Winter Olympics; too often, it was reserved exclusively for the Summer Games. But, no, they used it, ad nauseum—or at least a rearrangement of the piece by John Williams (of Star Wars fame). Yes, we got “Bugler’s Dream.”

But we didn’t get all of it. Here’s the opening page from the classic score:


That last line is the timpani part; the pic’s resolution is low, but you should be able to count two measures of timpani intro before the brass bombasts. Now, here’s the opening montage from NBC’s nightly Olympics broadcasts for comparison:

Great, right? The clip starts late, but NBC clearly includes both measures of timpani.

Unfortunately (and here’s the key point), this was rare during NBC’s 2010 Olympics coverage. More often than not, when NBC played Arnaud’s “Dream,” they cut out a whole measure of the timpanic intro. We were given just five notes to prepare for the brass blast-off. In other words, NBC forced me to revel too early. I need both measures to gird my loins for the full orchestra’s triumphant entry. The solo timpani, simple and spare, provides the contrast that makes the trumpet smack-down so breathtaking in the first place! Chop out a full measure, and you’re left with a dull dramatic hiccup.  Why would NBC do this? Why short-circuit their own spectacle?

Why else? Making room for commercials, baby. More often than not, “Bugler’s Dream” served as the soundtrack for a tightly-edited roll of corporate sponsors. With their broadcast costs spiraling out of control, NBC sacrificed sports showmanship for sports sponsorship. No time for drama! No time for the majesty of sport! We have a Visa logo to display! We have a Samsung slogan to spout! We have a semi-sacrosanct Olympic symbol to desecrate!

UPDATE: Here’s what I’m talking about. Listen for the single measure of timpani going into the commercial break.