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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

NBC TV and the IPC Complaints

NBC has been subjected to severe criticism for its coverage of the London Olympics. I watched virtually none of the games. I was interested but have a sharp preference for watching sports live.  The vast majority of NBC's coverage was tape delayed and formulaic. The live feeds were painful to watch.    I also had a much greater interest in the Paralympics and did not want to get too absorbed by the olympics. I should have felt free to watch as much of the olympics as I wanted because not one second of the Paralympics was shown live. In fact NBC aired a grand total of four one hour recap shows of the entire Paralympics. Yes, a grand total of four hours of the Paralympics was broadcast. A 90 minute NBC special will be broadcast on September 16 to bring the total number of hours broadcast to five and half hours. This is disgraceful. Many others share my opinion. Other nations devoted significant coverage to the Paralympics. Japan aired Paralympic coverage nightly. Australia aired 100 hours. The UK aired 400 hours and drew spectacular ratings. 

The International Paralympic Committee is not happy. What is the point of owning the rights to the Paralympic if they are not going to aired? In Deadspin, an online gossip rag, I read an interesting take on NBC's lack of coverage. Not exactly where one would expect to find any insight. According to Barry Petchesky:

 "It's a tough situation. No U.S. broadcaster wants to bid for the rights, because too few viewers care to make it profitable. In which case NBC is just being charitable, but isn't patronizing the Paralympics exactly what you're not supposed to do? So there's no way to make money off of them, no way to respectfully give them some scraps of air time—do the Paralympics have to be broadcast in markets that don't want them? You know what? Let's just get back to blaming NBC, before we get into some uncomfortable questions here.

I want to ask those uncomfortable questions. Among those questions is why is no one in the American media is asking about why the Paralympics were not aired. It is as though the Paralympics never took place. ESPN did not discuss the Paralympics at all--not even as filler in the middle of the night preferring to air endless loops of Sports Center. I caught a few references to Oscar Pistorious, by far the most famous Paralympian, on the national news.  The Wall Street Journal published a few puff pieces, forget the New York Times, they loath disability issues. The IPC has made some noise in the last day or two. The president of the IPC has stated "We'll examine their values as they will examine ours. If the values fit, we've got a chance. If they don't we'll go somewhere else". I have no idea what this statement on values means. I do know the IPC could not sell the games to any broadcaster. And this is the most uncomfortable question. I know of only one person that has taken this question up--Aimee Mullins--who was identified by the Guardian as "chef de mission" of the Paralympics. In my opinion Mullins is one of the most insightful people when it comes to sports and disability. If you have not seen her TED Talk online about disability I urge you to find it--it is widely available. Mullins made some interesting points in the Guardian article "US Paralympic Coverage Disappointing, says chef de mission". Link:

"The fact that not just the UK, but millions of people all over the world are watching this on some of their largest television stations – Australia, France, Germany – I think that the value of Paralympics broadcast rights are going to be something that NBC won't be able to ignore."Of course I would love for more live coverage while the Games is happening, but I am less distressed about it than I was in past Paralympic years because the glory of the internet means that people aren't being deterred by the fact that it's not on NBC – they're going to the internet and watching it anyway."

Unlike Mullin I am distressed. She is correct people who want to watch the Paralympics can do so on line. To me, this is akin to preaching to the choir. The important audience to tap into is the casual sports fan that know nothing about adaptive sports. The target audience for the Paralympics is identical to those that watched the olympics in great numbers. If this audience can be reached, if this audience watches the Paralympics it could foster real social change. The problem is NBC does not give a damn about fostering social change. NBC exists to make money. They will ignore the Paralympics forever. The Paralympics will accordingly remain virtually unknown and relegated to network obscurity. 

Mullins made one excellent point worth quoting in the Guardian--a point that far too few are willing to acknowledge: it is important to be open minded about the meaning of disability. It is in your best interest as well. Thus I will conclude with Mullins words:

"At some point in every person's life you will need an assisted medical device – whether it's your glasses, your contacts, or as you age and you have a hip replacement or a knee replacement or a pacemaker. The prosthetic generation is all around us. People don't realise it, but it's going to be you … your parents, your child … but that's OK because it's never been a better time for that to happen. The leaps in science technology are extraordinary and they are only speeding up."

1 comment:

lilacsigil said...

In Australia, we had 6-8 hours a day of Paralympics coverage, with professional sports commentators and former Paralympians providing coverage. It was awesome, even if there was way too much swimming, just as there is in our Olympics coverage. I also saw some of the Channel 4 UK coverage which was excellent...and being downloaded by lots of cranky US people via proxies. But the best thing was everyone in town discussing the Paralympics with the same fervour as they discussed the Olympics. My shire had a player in the gold-medal winning wheelchair rugby team, but it was the athletics and swimming discussed most. And that kind of coverage is what the Paralympics will thrive on.