Going all in on the NFL made sense as counterprogramming for ESPN; NBC’s lock on the Olympics meant the folks in Bristol could only give results and air still photos of the events. Even so, ESPN did its best to ruin NBC’s suspense (imagine if ESPN had outbid NBC for the Games, as it tried mightily to do—Olympic hoopla would be inescapable). And the network has already given a large chunk of its airtime to All Things Tebow, so this was hardly a reach.
More importantly, ESPN did seem to have the pulse of its audience. Passionate sports fans (like myself) have mostly been programmed out of caring much about the Olympics. Sure, there are plenty of interesting elements, especially the fringe sports that are relegated to NBC’s cable and online platforms (nothing better than fencing, imho). But to casual fans with real jobs and families, the majority of action that can realistically be viewed is on NBC’s primetime show. So ESPN’s early dive into football, and its prioritizing baseball over the Olympics on its news shows, isn’t just the sour grapes of a network left out of the five-ringed party—it’s calculated programming aimed at those fans left behind by what was once the ultimate sporting event.
The tape-delayed element of NBC’s coverage caused some collateral social-media damage when Guy Adams, a reporter for the London Independent, had his Twitter account cancelled. Adams was relentlessly bashing NBC for its hubris, though what caused Twitter to shutter his account was supposedly his Tweet giving the email address of an NBC exec. Never mind that all NBC employees use first name.last email@example.com as an e-handle, which five minutes of Googling would reveal (go ahead and drop a line to Bob Costas and tell him what you think of his hosting). But the ban was an obvious attempt by Twitter to curry favor with NBC, with whom it is partnering for an Olympic Tweetfest from London.
Shortly after Twitter and NBC realized the uproar was simply martyring Adams, his account was restored. The silliness did reinforce that NBC isn’t programming to the Twitter crowd—obviously, anyone attempting to avoid live results throughout the day should not be on Twitter. But the sheer size of the prime-time ratings also suggests that plenty of people tuned in despite knowing the results, which certainly makes sense—pictures being worth a thousand words and all that.
Journalistically, NBC may be failing, but it’s also reaping large rewards from those failures.