NBC has given viewers of this year’s Olympics a choice: You can watch the events on television, or you can stream them live online (provided you’re also a pay-TV subscriber). But if you watch them on television, you’d better not get too critical, or you could lose your Twitter account. And if you try to watch them live and your browser crashes, it’s your own fault.
The network is doing everything it can to recoup the $1.18 billion it paid for the rights to broadcast these games, no matter the hellish backlash or the flood of #nbcfail tweets. On paper, its two-pronged strategy makes business sense, as The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson points out: Streaming the games live all day ought to satisfy the hardcore fans, while tape-delaying the TV broadcast until primetime ensures that the masses won’t miss the lucrative commercial breaks.
It’s when those hardcore fans refuse to be pleased and those pesky television viewers sound off that things get ugly. Why can’t the public realize that any technical glitches are their own fault, and that it’s wrong to hold the network’s personnel accountable?
The problems began on the first day, when NBC declined to live-stream the opening ceremony, to the surprise and outrage of many would-be watchers. The explanation seemed obvious: The delay helped the network break ratings records. But no, ratings had nothing to do with it, NBC made clear. The real reason was that the show was too “complex” for online viewers to understand without the aid of context from NBC’s “award-winning production team.” (And how enlightening that context turned out to be!)
Then, on Saturday, some of those trying to watch the live-stream of the Michael Phelps/Ryan Lochte showdown in the men’s 400-meter individual medley had their browsers crash or the stream fail to load. But when the New York Times’ Richard Sandomir asked NBC about the troubles, he was informed that the problem lay with the users’ own computers or mobile devices. Or perhaps it was the cable operators’ fault. Really, it could have been anyone’s fault except for NBC’s. Nevertheless, the network magnanimously said that it would continue tweaking things on its own end in order to make up for its customers’ technological shortcomings.
Still, one stubborn journalist couldn’t get it through his head that NBC’s corporate honchos were blameless in all of this. Guy Adams, a Los Angeles correspondent for U.K.-based newspaper The Independent, volleyed critical tweets at the network throughout the weekend, culminating with him posting the not-too-hard-to-guess email address of NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel.
Not long after, Adams’ Twitter account was suspended and his tweets disappeared. The social media site informed Adams that he had violated the site’s policy against “posting an individual’s private information.” And what might have prompted Twitter to enforce this heretofore-little-known policy? Well, an NBC Sports spokesperson acknowledged that the network filed a complaint with Twitter, but added, “Twitter alone levies discipline.”
Given that Twitter has partnered with NBC to offer an official Olympics page, my first thought would be that the network might have exercised some corporate leverage here. But that’s probably just because the situation is too complex for me to understand.