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The Morning After: NBC Shoots, Scores With Live Soccer

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This past weekend, I went on NPR’s On the Media to talk about NBC’s practice of tape-delaying big Olympic events until primetime—a strategy that had earned the network big ratings, big ad money and the enmity of a subset of fans who’ve had to wait until hours after the world knew results to watch the events on TV.

Well, credit where due: Yesterday afternoon, NBC aired the live women’s soccer semifinal between the U.S. and Canada, and it was glorious. After the two teams fought to a 3-3 tie in regulation time—amid some controversial officiating that I’ll let my Canadian readers weigh in on in the comments—the game went to overtime. And overtime again.* Until, with less than a minute left in extra time, Alex Morgan knocked in a beautiful header sideways into the Canadian goal to put the American women in the final.

* I am informed that in soccer, it’s properly called “extra time,” not “overtime,” and there are always two such periods. I’m certain that’s true! (Also, the rest of the world calls it “football”—why do you Yanks call your sport “football” when you’re allowed to use your hands!, &c.) Anyway, apologies: I am the textbook non-sports-fan casual Olympic viewer.

It was a thrilling, suspenseful, exhausting example of how there’s really no substitute for live TV when it comes to big Olympic moments. I suppose some might complain that you needed cable to see the game, which aired on the NBC Sports Network cable channel. (NBC showed a reel of highlights at the beginning of last night’s primetime show.) But there is, after all, only one NBC broadcast network and only 24 hours in a day—a two-hour-plus soccer game would dominate an awfully big chunk of its limited broadcast time. (Not to mention, there are no breaks for commercials.) Any Olympic broadcast is going to require some kind of compromise, and using NBC’s cluster of cable channels to carry live events seems like a reasonable one.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard from more Olympic-obsessed viewers that NBC seemed to step up its live coverage last weekend vs. the first weekend of the Games. I’m not sure if the actual amount of live events increased, or, if so, if it was coincidence or NBC adjusting its coverage. But yesterday showed that, while I can appreciate a good primetime highlights package, sometimes there’s just no substitute for letting the cameras run, and hoping something amazing happens.

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Khaja M
Khaja M

And the reason they did it was because US was playing.  I am surprised there's not a bigger backlash against NBC for delaying the signature events of olympics namely the 100m and 200m esp. when the worlds most recognizable athlete after Muhammad Ali is performing. To be honest, I was expecting a long rant from you James!

ps:  I am doing my bit and will not watch NBC atleast for the remainder of this year.

Confess Your Sins
Confess Your Sins

So two hours for soccer is too much for NBC proper, but there's plenty of time for a half hour look back at gymnastics from 1996, not even to mention the interminable plausibly live gymnastics. Take away the toddlers in tiaras amp; NBC's prime time coverage is about 45 minutes total of real, interesting competitions. Thank baby jesus for the live streaming amp; my gainful unemployment.

Drew Whitcomb
Drew Whitcomb

My question is, what will NBC do in 2016 when the games are in Rio. Rio is only 1 hour ahead of EST so it seems that NBC will be forced to air a lot of events live or extremely close to live. In fact, with so many events happening concurrently in prime time it could be hard for them to show all the popular events on one channel.

TyrantKing
TyrantKing

The term "soccer" originated in England and was short for association football. Soccer developed along side numerous other football sports including rugby football, American football and Australian football. Calling it "association football" helped distinguish it from the other forms of football and led to the adoption of uniform rules. Note also that these sports were called football not for their emphasis on using feet over hands but rather because they were played on foot as opposed to being played on horseback.

James Poniewozik
James Poniewozik

 Now all I can think of is how much cooler it would be played on horseback. THANKS FOR RUINING SOCCER FOR ME.