ESPN Wants the Olympics in 2014 3

By Ben Haber

The ratings for the Beijing Olympics are way up over Athens. The Los Angeles Times reports that NBC’s 12-day average prime-time viewership is 29.3 million for Beijing, up from 26.1 million in Athens. With so many people watching the likes of beach volleyball champs Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, Gymnastics studs Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson, and the dominating swimming performance by Michael Phelps, it’s no wonder why the Olympics are so popular.

However, if there is one complaint about the coverage, it’s that NBC hasn’t aired enough live events – something ESPN is hoping to capitalize on.

John Skipper, ESPN’s executive vice president for content says that “[ESPN’s] DNA is different than theirs [NBC]. We serve sports fans. It’s hard in our culture to fathom tape-delaying in the same way they have. I’m not suggesting it wasn’t the smart thing for them to do, but it’s not our culture…We would never put an event on tape delay. When we put ‘live’ on the screen, we mean ‘live right now.’ We don’t mean live three hours ago.”

While I was watching the Olympics last night, I noticed that the men’s 200 meter run was not shown live, but an interview with Shawn Johnson (about her Gold medal high beam performance) was. I understand how popular Johnson is in these Olympics games, but the 200m was a really exciting race and the U.S. finished in 2nd and 3rd. Bolt also broke Michael Johnson’s world record time, and the athletes that originally placed 2nd and 3rd in the race (one from the U.S.) ended up being disqualified for stepping on the line. How was this not live?

NBC has made big news with extended online video, including 2,200 hours of live coverage, thanks to Microsoft’s Silverlight. However, the reality is that ESPN has a valid point – we want to watch these sports live, not hear about the results online then watch the event afterwards, already knowing the results. That’s part of the beauty of sports – the excitement that no one knows what will happen next.

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