Sunday, August 5, 2012

An Open Letter To The International Olympic Committee and Olympic Games Broadcasters

To the members of the International Olympic Committee and its delegations, and to the various delegations of broadcasters assigned to cover the Olympic Games telecasts,

In the lead-up to the current Olympic Games in London, it emerged throughout the media that you were ensuring local vendors were not trying to use the Olympics' name to help their business. And while it may not have come across as a particularly endearing moment on the IOC's part, you are completely within your rights to do this - after all, not only are the Olympics themselves a brand with enormous pulling power, but several other companies have invested massive sums of money in order to become official sponsors. It's completely reasonable to try and protect their investments and the importance of being deemed an "official" sponsor.

But at the same time, while the Olympics are a brand, the OLYMPICS are a BRAND. Much of your funding comes from the sale of television broadcast rights. Those television rights allow the networks to essentially broadcast the sports at whatever time they wish and with any commentary they choose, whether that be their own, an audio feed from another international broadcast network, or without commentary at all. Again, well within their rights, although they'd be stupid not to do it live with results being published on the internet instantaneously. As with any other show, they are allowed to present it however they wish. After all, the Olympics are basically a reality show with the Opening Ceremony as the premiere and the usual patch of dull mid-season episodes replaced by two weeks of season finales.

That being said, however, which is more harmful to the longterm success of the Olympic Games: A little shop in the middle of England using a lovingly-created tissuepaper replica of the Olympic rings for their window as the torch passes through town, selling (let's say for the sake of argument) two Pepsis instead of the customer going to the supermarket next door and buying two Coca-Colas for the same price, OR having your official broadcast networks provide coverage abysmal to the point newsreaders from other networks are taking pointed, unmistakable jabs at their incompetence in national bulletins and approximately nobody in the audience disagrees?

To put it succinctly: If the coverage is poor, viewers go elsewhere to learn the results. If viewers go elsewhere, the market value of the Olympics is diminished, and less money can be obtained from networks and sponsors. Conversely, if the coverage is brilliant, audience members tune in, and the increased audience makes the contracts more lucrative. Therefore, it is in the IOC's best interests to ensure the coverage is as good as possible.

At the moment, unfortunately, the coverages on the NBC family in the United States and on the Nine Network and Foxtel in Australia are less like Glee and more like Viva Laughlin. Yes. It's so bad GLEE is the HIGH watermark. There are enough examples of both networks' incompetence online, though I find it hard to believe we will top Karl Stefanovic's "I knew you were going to be trouble just looking at you" to a panel of three of the greatest black athletes of the modern era. We haven't seen such casual racism at the Olympics since... oh, since the time they were used as Nazi propaganda. At this stage, in order for the IOC to continue reaping the benefits of the viewing audience - and let's be honest, the Olympics probably would have been abandoned by now without American TV rights in particular - they need to get off their backsides and start instituting some quality control. I'm not entirely sure what that would entail (the best solution I can think of is for the IOC to limit the amount of replays and filler in official broadcasts, and to organise a shared pool of commentators to remove the jingoism that makes the Games less "Hey, it's that one time every four years when we remember Estonia exists!" and more "HOW THE HELL CAN AUSTRALIA BE LOSING? AREN'T WE THE ONLY COUNTRY COMPETING?!"), but something needs to be done. Yesterday.

-- The viewing public (Remember us?)

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