THE LATEST THINKING
The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.
Social media means the telecast better be as live as you say it is.
We left off with ABC splitting the marathon into a bi-coastal telethon. 20 years later, with the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, NBC had taken over rights to games coverage. It had televised one winter and three summer games (including partial coverage of the 1964 Tokyo games, by Telstar satellite — a TV first). With no real excuse to delay coverage, since the games were in the United States, Network Vice President Dick Ebersol introduced a concept called "plausibly live," coverage, which meant NBC would show, say, a track race live, and delay a gymnastics event happening almost simultaneously, rather than join it in progress ... live.
The greediest of these concepts came in 2002, when Salt Lake City played host to the winter games. NBC left it up to its General Managers at owned and operated and affiliated stations, in Pacific and Mountain time zones, to decide, as one, whether to delay the telecasts by an hour. They said yes, to get that extra local newscast on the air, and reap the advertising dollars from local spots.
Years pass. Winter and Summer, 2004, '06, '08, '10, '12, '14. Same strategy. Necessary delays when live coverage would be in our overnight hours, unnecessary delays with the Vancouver games in a Pacific Coast city.
Enter Facebook. Enter Twitter, Instagram and all manner of immediate conversation and observation that could drive down ratings for delayed events. That financial bottom line is the only reason I can, as I write this, watch the Women's Giant Slalom, in prime time PST, LIVE from Pyeongchang, South Korea, where it is the next afternoon.
There are innate problems that come along with our slavish devotion to adding our two cents to everything via social media. We have a Commander in Chief who blurts dangerously on Twitter. Foreign countries apparently can manipulate voters with bots generating incendiary, largely made up items. And anonymous, mendacity-driven trolls can spew their bile and torture children to the point of suicide.
When you think about it, those are grim realities that may not be worth the trade for being able to enjoy live Olympic telecasts (and those award shows) on the Pacific coast. But it's the way we have gone as a culture, and something positive had to come out of it. It might as well be the suspense of a live event.