Monday, May 4, 2009

NBC in Long Term Deal with the IAAF - Good or Bad for US Track Fans?

A press release issued today outlines a new deal between NBC and the IAAF to broadcast the World Championships in 2011, 2013 and 2015. It is an extension of the deal that NBC has to broadcast this year's World Championships in Berlin. The agreement also includes some future telecasts of Golden League events during the same time period.

On the surface this is exciting news. Just a few years ago (2003) we only had one day of Major network coverage (ABC) of the Paris World Championships - a definite travesty. By the same token, however, last year's telecast of the Olympics by NBC was also a travesty. Promising more hours of Olympic coverage than had ever been provided, we were treated mostly to tape delayed coverage of events almost a day later than they were originally contested. In the age of the Internet this was most horrific.

After all, we are now treated to LIVE RESULTS being fed to us from the website of every Major competition on the planet - and a few even provide free LIVE streaming of their events. I knew the full results of the men's 100 meters in Beijing almost instantly after the race was completed. In addition to the website there were cameras all over the stadium broadcasting to countries around the world. Fans in Europe and Australia were treated to instant video of the race as well as instant results. Even the rabid fans in Jamaica saw Usain cross the line in real time. But we fans here in the US had to wait for NBC's prepackaged Prime Time coverage before we were able to see what we had known to be true for some 24 hours!

But it gets worse! Because just as there were cameras and broadcasts all over the globe of the Games, some of them actually had live internet streaming to go with their broadcasts! Now, NBC had promised "us" live video streams of events too! This was part of their "unprecedented" coverage of the Games. What they didn't tell us however - hidden in the fine print - was that there was no live streaming of anything that they were holding for their Prime Time telecasts! So while I could watch all the ping pong I wanted to see live, I couldn't watch any track and field live.

But it gets even WORSE! How could it get worse you ask? Well, as I mentioned above, there were live streams of track and field on the Internet. I even caught a glimpse of a couple of heats of some races this way. But our friends at NBC found them and cut off access to Americans! That's right, they cut off access to Internet streams of live Olympic coverage from us here in the United States. Several times sites popped up, and the Internet community said - in hushed tones - "Americans try this link". And we would, and it would work, and NBC would find them and quickly shut off access to the US!

So, in the end, with NBC's cyber cops on the case, we here in the United States were forced to wait approximately 24 hours at a pop to see what NBC would "allow" us to see. So while the rest of the world, including undeveloped nations, were watching ALL the rounds of ALL the races, and ALL the jumps and attempts on the field, we here were treated to NBC's hit and miss coverage of the Games. I say hit and miss because track and field was interspersed with swimming and gymnastics and a whole lot of beach volleyball, among other sports, in its made for Prime Time three to four hours of coverage!

So, am I excited about the press release that was issued today? Not really. Not if it means that NBC is in total control of what you and I get to see. Because that means waiting for NBC's Prime Time package so that they can cash in on their "rights" with their advertisers. That means that they will NOT be setting up any LIVE video streams, and they will cut access to any video streams from other countries! And I have to take a time out to give a shout out to the Bahamians because their live stream (when I could see it) was the bomb! Exactly what SHOULD be taking place in the New Millennium.

Instead, here in what is supposed to be the most developed country on the planet, we get the 1960's version of global telecasting - taped delayed, severely edited, hope I make a buck from my advertisers, and the fans can't do a thing about it, programming! Sort of Aldous Huxley's "Big Brother" come to life! Of course this is no Brave New World that NBC is residing in, but the crappy old world that modern technology was supposed to improve - and has for the rest of the world!

So if, as the press release says, the IAAF is looking for this to improve track and field in the United States, I suggested they rush back to the negotiating table. Tell NBC that there should be LIVE Internet for the real fans, and they can save the montages and such for the casual fan watching during Prime Time. And NO, selling some service to us (via Universal Sports) is not the same. Not when you are making a killing on advertising - that's called double dipping and I HATE when they do that! Also, tell them that they can NOT limit or restrict access to what others provide on the Internet! That's weak and cowardly - make them RAISE THEIR GAME instead.

Like it or not, the Internet has created a Brave New World when it comes to the media. Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection has access to an entire world of media, and NBC shouldn't be allowed to restrict it, but rather be forced to grow with it. It's time for NBC to raise its' game, not impinge on others. They can either make this a good thing for American fans, or continue to make press releases like today's a reason for real fans of the sport to cringe.

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