James Dunaway is the editor of American Track & Field. He is mentor, friend, colleague. I know my day is going to be long, when I hear, “You may want to fire me today.” There are days like that, however, Dunaway is so real, so honest, that it hits one hard. He loves track & field, and he knows that track & field can be communicated well and televised well on American TV.
London 2012 Olympics from 4,000 miles away, Part II
by James Dunaway
August 6, 2012
After some round-the-clock efforts to figure out how to watch the Games from here in Austin and a day off to recover from lack of sleep and frustration, I’m back.
First, I have partly mastered the streaming video on the Internet business. And perhaps “partly mastered” is not so bad, because I sometimes think the people who are running the streaming video have not fully mastered what they promised.
So far, it is very erratic. Sometimes it comes with a picture and live sound but no announcing, which isn’t bad because there are plenty of graphics to keep you informed. Sometimes it comes with BBC commentary which is generally adequate except when Peter Matthews is talking, when it is as good as it gets.
But the damn picture keeps freezing, sometimes for 4-5 minutes, and once long enough for long enough to miss the entire men’ steeplechase final. A friend experienced similar freezing problems:
“Every day we watched the evening sessions live online. The experience was generally okay, though occasionally there were freezes in the action, and when the video stream eventually resumed, it did not always pick up where it left off, missing some action from the stadium. But it was still tolerable, until today (Monday).
Today, I had trouble getting the dang thing to work at any decent resolution. Even at the lowest quality, 240p, the screen kept freezing, and 240p is too crappy to view full screen–looks like the video from the moon in 1969. I gave up after a while; it it’s just not working well enough, and when it doesn’t, like today, I’d just rather wait for the TV show 10 hours later. Maybe in 2016 it will work.”
And the commercials are very interruptive; whenever the person who hits the “Commercial” button feels like it, up comes a Coke or Chevy spot, not, I’ll admit, during an actual race or performance, but as often as not in the middle of a perceptive comment from Peter Matthews. It looks as if that button-pusher is on an incentive pay arrangement tied to how many commercials he, she or it (could it be computerized?) can get on the air.
Confidentially, it stinks. As far as I’m concerned Comcast’s streaming performance amounts to a broken promise. I understand the economics of the Games and of U.S. commercial television (I spent 18 years in big ad agencies), but American track fans deserve better.
As a friend emailed me yesterday, “If you want to see Olympic track on TV, you’ve got a problem.” Unfortunately, as the addicted gambler says, it’s the only wheel in town.
ADDENDUM: As I finish this up a day later, they seem to have (finally!) fixed the freeze problem – *only* 11 days into the Games.
So, what about the prime-time NBC network show?
First, let me say that NBC’s production and announcing crew are vastly improved over Eugene. Part of this is due to having many more cameras in London than were available in the Trials; but at least as much, I’d guess, is a result of sitting down and asking themselves, “How can we do it better?”
Good for them. But on the other hand, as a viewer, you get a very limited view of the track and field competition, and you have to wait hours to see what NBC has selected as suitable for your eyes. If there are few or no U.S. competitors in an event, your may not see it at all.
Here’s what happened in NBC prime time, minute by minute.
7:00-7:03 Introduction, Bob Costas
7:03 USA-Canada, Alice Morgan’s winning header in 4-3 U.S. win
7:05 Promos and quick previews of track, gymnastics, volleyball
7:06 Track cycling (big in England, unknown in U.S.)
7:10 Commercials – Citi, BMW, Arby’s, Wal-Mart
7:13 Track cycling
7:20 Commercials – Kellogg Pop Tarts, Nike, Spiriva, HP
7:23 Diving (3m springboard)
7:28 Local promos and ads
7:36 Commercials – Movie, McDonalds, AT&T, 2 others
7:42:30 Commercials, P&G, GE, Bud Lite, Applebees, Chevy
7:51:30 Commercials – Lorax, Revolution, Chevy, AT&T,
Goodwill, Jack in the Box
7:54 Beach volleyball
7:58 Commercials – VISA, Chevy, Diet Coke, Old Navy,
8:00 Costas and Mary Carillo intro her “Trip on the Thames”
8:09 Beach Volleyball
8:13 Commercials – Local ads
8:16 Beach volleyball
8:19 Commercials – Coke, AT&T, TDAmeritrade, Olay, JIF
8:30 Commercials – Local ads and promos
8:34 *Track & field* W200 heats & pretaped Allyson Felix profile,
Showed 4 of 6 heats (3 US entrants plus Fraser-Pryce), Pole vault report, interview with Sanya Richards-Ross; women’s 400 hurdles semis (lovely package on Demus’ life) and interviews coming off track w/Demus and new star Moline,\; then men’s 400 hurdles final – PLUS commercials for Chevy, United Airlines, an online college whose name I missed, NBC promo, Grimm (new movie), T Mobile,
3 spots I missed because I fell asleep, Coke, Citi, “The Bourne Legacy”, GE, Chevy, Target, “The Bourne Legacy,” McDonald’s, Chevy, “Hope Springs,” HP, Citi, Subway, and quite possibly some others I missed
9:25 Gymnastics – women’s uneven bars
10:05 Very long “Revolution” commercial (several minutes)
Ca 10:09 *Track & field. *Bolt 100m victory ceremony and Jamaican national anthem. Bolt’s lips move a little, but we can’t be sure whether or not he knows all the words. Followed by
10:11 Track – Men’s 400m final, Grenadan celebrations, Kirani James interview, pole vault wrap-up.
10:26 Men’s gymnastics, and I’ve had enough (after a certain point I stopped making notes on the commercials, but believe me they didn’t stop running them).
Internet or Network? A plague o’ both your houses!