The Olympics are rigged—not the games themselves, but the presentation, at least for those of us watching TV in the U.S.A. Over at The A.V. Club, Ryan McGee’s coverage of NBC’s coverage isn’t redundant—it’s warrented criticism of how NBC’s monopoly on broadcast narrates the Olympics in a very literal sense.
Purer, unspoiled streaming is available but not exactly economically accessible or technically reliable. So in trying to balance exposition with drama, NBC choked the information, and the internet is throwing up.
It boils down to the way NBC treats this four-hour block as a narrative it has to shape rather than a sporting event it has to cover. When it comes to simply depicting the action without the accompaniment of either a prepackaged montage or overly scripted human drama element, the results barely past muster. If they do, it’s because of the athletes themselves, not NBC.
Highlighting certain individuals in order to build an emotional bond between athlete and viewer is par for the course in Olympics coverage, and hardly a cardinal sin in and of itself. There’s a difference, however, between the way networks build up coverage of athletes before the Games begin and the way networks build them up after the events themselves have been complete.
The strategy here, from a broadcasting perspective, is clear: “Stay tuned: You are likely to see Americans win the gold.” It’s a sound strategy from a ratings’ perspective, but it’s also a case of the announcers injecting themselves into the drama rather than simply commenting on it.
NBC isn’t authoring our experience—they’re framing it like game developers often do. Those who’ve played Mass Effect or any other narrative that emphasizes choice should be keen to how NBC toys with the Olympic experience. Game spaces are often where stories generate rather than regurgitate. But unlike videogames, where we can’t feasibly expect each decision to create entirely new endings for each and every player, the Olympics are rarefied events, and the stories NBC is strong-arming for the majority of viewers in the United States are events on steroids that never needed supplement:
Hopefully it realizes as the Olympics march forth how exciting these events can be if they are allowed to speak in their own, unique, unpredictable ways.