Monday, August 04, 2008

We Need A New Model For Olympic Coverage

The Olympics need to catch up with the times.

Here's what you're going to get with this year's Olympics from Beijing on NBC: gymnastics, track and field, swimming, diving, basketball, a little baseball, a little soccer, a smattering of other activities.

What if you're into: yachting, kayaking, horseback riding, bicycling, distance running, badminton, wrestling, martial arts and a half dozen other Olympic competitions that NBC doesn't care to cover? Well, you're out of luck, because NBC has a monopoly on U.S. broadcast coverage.

The problem with that monopoly is that NBC has no incentive to bring you coverage of anything but the most popular events. That's a shame, because if the Olympics sold broadcast rights by the event you'd get a lot more choice in the matter.

Or, the IOC could give NBC exclusive rights to certain events--gymnastics, swimming, track & field, etc. (sort of an Olympic glamor package), but then sell rights to events that NBC declines to cover, or that are outside the core package.

In the old days, it made sense to sell rights to one network for exclusive coverage since there were only three networks and the losing networks had no interest in the more marginal events.

But today we have hundreds of cable networks, all with lots of programming space to fill. So, the Outdoor Life Network would probably be quite happy to air bicycling and kayaking events. OLN could sell advertising space to companies that specialize in equipment for these sports, and the small number of enthusiasts of those sports would tune in.

Likewise, other cable networks could do well airing yachting events, or horseback riding events, again tailoring their coverage and attracting advertisers for those niches.

The various soccer channels could vie to air ALL, or MOST, of the Olympic soccer matches, instead of the snippets you'll see of ONLY the U.S. matches.

ESPN might well want to air the softball contests. And so on.

Would all that competing coverage really detract from NBC's audience? We doubt it--it would attract small audiences of folks highly interested in those events, who likely aren't all that interested in NBC's events.

(GASP! You mean not everyone is enamored of gymnastics and swimming?!)

The IOC could also probably make more money this way as well.

The one other piece is having the opportunity to view all Olympic events, or at least all the finals, REGARDLESS of whether there is an American competing. Maybe the IOC could license someone with a global presence--dare we say Rupert Murdoch and FOX, much as we despise their political views--to let those of us who are more interested in the overall competition than the American jingoism ("USA! USA!") on NBC have an opportunity to watch the Olympics, not just Americans competing in the Olympics.

It's sad that with the Olympics upon us the one thing we can count on is that we will miss most of the Olympics.

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