Olympics Open Letter: Dear NBC (and Fellow TV Nets) -- We Are Humans, Not Cows
As I write this, the USA/Canada gold-medal hockey game has yet to be completed, but I am still basking in the USA Team's glorious four-man bobsled victory, using NASCAR legend Geoff Bodine's amazing Night Train sled.
By the way, what a cool convergence of utterly divergent sports on the common ground of speed -- in NASCAR, thanks to the internal-combustion engine, and in bobsledding, thanks to gravity and the dynamics of steel on ice.
It was one awesome moment in a series of awesome moments from this year's Winter Olympics, when, as I've pointed out before, NBC wasn't killing them dead with useless blather, self-serving tape delays and pointless interruptions.
Many people are unhappy, especially those on the Internet. Since many of these folks represent the consumers of the future, it behooves the broadcasters to take note.
In the digital age, these people want what they want, when they want it, the way they want it. And if they can't get it from you, they'll get it somewhere else. And they can.
One offshoot of the Industrial Revolution and especially the assembly line has been the idea that humans can be herded like cattle, that merchants and distributors and broadcasters and generally anyone that provides goods and services can treat their customers like a bovine mass to be directed and manipulated according to advertising and marketing principles.
That only worked when there were gatekeepers, when goods and services could only be obtained from a limited number of places, in a limited number of ways.
The Internet has blown all that sky-high. Information travels at the speed of electrons; goods and services can be contracted over states, nations and continents; video, audio and still pictures can be digitized and shared in the blink of an eye.
NBC may have controlled how the Games were broadcast over American network and basic-cable television, but the Peacock sure didn't control Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and a myriad of other ways that the images and results of the Games were shared in real time, often hours and hours before NBC would deign to offer them to the viewing public.
Yeah, the ratings have been high -- because the Games were amazing. NBC is no doubt happy with the numbers, but it should also consider how much ill will has been generated among frustrated viewers who felt their patience being unnecessarily abused. The more tech-savvy among them probably abandoned the TV viewing altogether and sought out live coverage where the 'Net could provide it.
So, NBC built it, and they came, but many left grumbling and unsatisfied.
Digital distribution has put consumers at odds with all media providers, as providers desperately try to keep control over information and entertainment, and consumers constantly find ways to circumvent those controls.
Princess Leia's warning to the Grand Moff Tarkin in the original "Star Wars" becomes very appropriate.
"The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers."
If people have choices, they take advantage of them. Just because they never had choices before doesn't mean they didn't want them. And few things are more irritating than when people know there are alternatives, but also know they are being forcibly prevented from pursuing them.
Before the Summer Olympics in London roll around in 2012, it would benefit NBC to do some serious thinking about coming to grips with the new reality and finding a way to broadcast the Games that satisfies the network's needs while not pissing off millions of viewers.
There is hope. Today's hockey final is being broadcast live in all time zones -- even the West Coast, where, by the way, it's actually happening.
Better late than never, NBC.