The last time the Winter Olympics came to Canada, 2010 seemed like the distant future, didn’t it?
Watching the Calgary games in 1988, we probably figured that by 2010, we’d be driving to sporting events in our flying cars. And certainly, without a doubt, we’d be able to watch those events live on TV, as they happened, right?
Well 2010 is here, the Winter Olympics are back in Canada, our cars are still grounded, and heaven help us left coasters, the Olympic Games will delayed three hours if you tune into NBC’s coverage. Think about that for a second: if not for the inevitable long waits at the border, you could leave your house when a particular game/race came to an end, drive to Vancouver and ask somebody leaving the venue what had happened in order to find out the results faster than you could by sitting at home and waiting for NBC’s primetime coverage to tell you the outcome.
The bad news for those of us stuck out here in the third world (OK, fourth time zone)? We shouldn’t expect this practice to change. As it turns out, the casual Olympics fan is just fine with delayed coverage. It does, after all, afford the average 9 to 5 worker a chance to get home and catch up on the highlights from the day’s competition. And even though a lot of fans complained about seeing Michael Phelps’ run at history shown on a three-hour delay two summers ago, a whole lot of people still tuned in.
“It actually does (give us better ratings), because it allows those things to have their premier run at a time when people are home to watch it,” said Ray Heacox, the president and general manager of King 5, NBC’s Seattle affiliate. “If all that stuff was live, it would be during a time when most people here wouldn’t be able to watch it.”
And while Heacox admits that there is some desire to show the coverage live, his station has no problem with NBC’s decision to delay west coast coverage if it leads to ratings.
“It’s always probably the toughest thing going,” he said. “With sports coverage, our instincts are always that we’d like to have it live, because there’s a reality to the in-time emotion of what’s actually happening, but a lot of people are more than happy to avoid hearing the news and waiting until they see it in prime time, and that gives a lot more people an opportunity to see it once.”
Some people are no doubt reading this thinking, “No problem, I’ll just do what I’ve done for the last few Olympics: catch it live on the Canadian channel.” Well, we’ve got bad news for you on that front too. CBC, the network that has carried recent games and been available in Washington, was out-bid for the Canadian rights by CTV, which is not available south of the border.
There will be some live coverage for those who can’t wait until prime time. USA, MSNBC and CNBC will carry live coverage during the days, though don’t expect to see marquee events on the cable networks, as all three will focus on preliminary rounds of hockey and curling. So if you want to see, for example, the men’s downhill that starts at 11:45 a.m. Saturday, be patient. A little over eight ours after the race starts, NBC’s prime-time coverage will begin, and then, sometime in the next three hours, you’ll see the race.
As for King 5, the local station couldn’t be more thrilled to have the games so close to home. Seattle is typically one of the best markets in the country when it comes to Olympic viewership — usually in the top three to five, Heacox said — so delays or not, they’re expecting big ratings.
Peter O’Connell, King 5’s executive producer of special projects, said his station will send between 15 and 20 employees to the games, and typically have three news crews working on any given day. They won’t cover live events, but King 5 will have plenty of programming focusing on local athletes and locals attending the games.
“We’ll have news crews in Vancouver and Whistler,” O’Connell said. “We’ll be there to cover the local athletes who are competing, other people from the area who are up there as volunteers, and any transportation issues, ticking issues, or things associated with the running of the games as it affects people from the area.”
What King 5 won’t be able to help you with, however, is viewing marquee events as they happen. Maybe someday. You know, in the future.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.