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Live Finally Means Live. Thanks, Social Media!
Twitter, Facebook and Instagram make tape-delayed TV programming old news - Part One
It is said in broadcasting circles that the only way for network television to continue to compete in a world of streaming content, on demand, on all devices available, is to telecast events live, as they happen. It took the brink of obsolescence to bring network honchos to their senses.
Mainly, I'm talking about presentation of the Olympic Games in the pacific time zone. The case could also be made for awards shows. As late as 2014, the Oscars were the only live entertainment awards shown live coast to coast. Now, all are as live as they once were before the advent of video tape, 60 years ago. Thank the immediacy of social media for enabling viewers from Vegas to San Diego and Seattle to see awards or Olympic competition the minute it occurs.
It's been a long, frustrating half-century since ABC brought live, color coverage of the Mexico City games to living rooms across the country. I recall specifically getting home from the 3rd grade, watching an American diver named Bernard Wrightson win the gold medal, live, to the great excitement of ABC announcer Bill Fleming. Four years later, as a tween, older, a little wiser, I became aware of NBC's need to delay events from the Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan. "Pre-recorded for this time zone," was super-imposed over the pictures in the graphics of the day, to remind us in southern California that what we were watching was three hours old. In my 13-year-old head, it made no sense that I'd half to stay up to 11:30 pm to see the final of the Men's Downhill Skiing, when it could have been shown at 8:30 PST.
The rational in 1972 was that advertisers had paid for prime time programming, not sports, so west coast viewers got Ironside, as scheduled, not live Alpine skiing. That fall, ABC took it up a notch, with 55 hours of Summer Games coverage from Munich, mostly prime time, but live on the weekend – except for the west coast. I'll never forget Jim McKay during the 5,000 meter track event, with the late Steve Prefontaine attempting to medal, lunging down the stretch. Bleated McKay, "This is happening LIVE! No one in the world knows how this is going to end!!" Well, I did. I'd heard the results on the radio, three hours before. Even the horror of the hostage tragedy was delayed because of sponsor commitments that coverage be in prime time on both coasts. Jim McKay's poignant "they're all gone" was anti-climactic to us.
In 1976, ABC did show the start of the marathon in Montreal live, then cut away, resuming it's telecast in prime time ... three hours later in Los Angeles. The rational was that viewers didn't care as long as they got to watch, which was ridiculous. The viewers took what they were offered. Who wouldn't prefer something as it happened?
It would get worse. Part two is coming.
NBC will broadcast the 2018 Winter Olympics live across all US time zones for the first time, the TV network has announced.