If You Thought NBC's Olympic Coverage Was Bad ... Check Out These Global Gaffes

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Michael Phelps

In the first week of the Rio Games, Russian TV accused Michael Phelps of 'legal doping,' a French reporter defended slavery and South Korean commentators have come under fire for sexist comments.

NBC has taken a beating for its coverage of the ongoing 2016 Olympics in Rio.

From tape-delayed broadcasts of the opening ceremony and key events to “excessive” commercial breaks to lame, ignorant or even sexist and offensive commentary, social media has let the network have it.

“NBC's Olympic coverage has been a dumpster fire,” ran one headline from news site Talking Points Memo.

But it could be worse. Much worse. Consider South Korea, where sexist commentary directed at Olympic athletes is so common, a local Twitter user (@JOO_D4N) has started an archive of discriminative remarks. They include such gems as “28 is considered old for a woman” (referring to a judo competitor); “She has all the hallmarks of a prim and proper lady ... who could enter a beauty pageant” (a South Korean fencer); and “It's a remarkable achievement: she's not even male” (in reference to a female weightlifter).

In Russia, Olympic coverage has been dominated by the ongoing doping scandal, where more than 100 Russian athletes were banned from competing amid evidence Moscow orchestrated an elaborate state-sponsored doping program. But Russian TV, unsurprisingly, sees things differently. Following Monday night's 100 meter women's breaststroke final, which saw American swimmer and vocal anti-doper Lilly King defeat Russia's Yulia Yefimova, who was allowed to compete despite twice failing drugs tests in the past, Russia struck back by claiming U.S. athletes were no better.

Russian TV: Phelps' Back Bruises Constitute "Legal Doping"

Channel Rossiya 24 aired a four-minute report that said the unusual massage method used by U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps — a cupping therapy that left bluish bruises on his back — produced an effect equivalent to that of the banned performance-enhancing drug meldonium. Rossiya 24 quoted a number of coaches and other supposed experts to support its view that the therapy mimicked the effects of the banned substance.

Rossiya 24's viewers, however, appeared unimpressed.

“Rossiya 24 in all its glory once again: content from cattle to cattle,” noted one commentator on the network's website. “What's to stop [sportsmen] using jars or legal drugs, you fools?" Another noted that, using the same logic, you could add “hot-water bottles, chicken soup and vitamins" to the list of legal doping agents.

French Reporter Says Slavery Was "Good for Brazil"

The gold medal for most offensive comment, however, has to go to France, where sports anchor Daniel Bilalian sparked outrage, and legal action, during Friday's opening ceremony when he said that slavery “was good for [Brazil's] development.” The Representative Council of Black Associations (CRAN) in France said it will file an official complaint with TV regulatory body Superior Audiovisual Council (CSA) over the comments.

Online Coverage Soars, TV Ratings Dip

When it comes to the sports themselves, most nations do not have to suffer through the indignity of tape-delay broadcasts. The majority of official broadcasters worldwide are carrying hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of live footage, with thousands more available via online and mobile stream or for repeat viewing on demand.

In sports-mad Australia, the main viewer complaint has been technical, as the country's Seven Network races to meet the “unprecedented global demand” for its Olympics on 7 app, which is live-streaming more than 5,000 hours of coverage from Rio de Janeiro. Seven said on Day 3 of the Games that it recorded over 3.1 million live streams of its channels — a new record for streaming down under — but viewers have complained the app has frequently frozen and crashed since its launch on Friday. Seven anchor Jim Wilson on Tuesday formally apologized, saying the network didn't expect so many viewers from outside Australia to access the app.

Worldwide, the Rio Olympics likely will go down in history as the most mobile Games ever. Broadcasters are reporting record user figures for their coverage online and on Facebook and Twitter. Italy's RAI, one of the few networks to provide regular social media traffic updates, said it has counted more than 3.6 million global interactions across the Facebook and Twitter platforms of its network's channels. Interesting, in Italy at least, the bulk of the social media traffic is female, accounting for 56 percent of the network's Facebook fanbase. Canada's CBC network said its digital offerings generated 5.5 million video views in the first three days of the Games and that online viewers skewed younger, with 75 percent in the 25-54 demographic, compared to just 40 percent for its traditional TV offering.  

Online interest, however, may be hurting traditional TV viewing figures. In South Korea, a country with one of the highest penetration rates for mobile devices, television ratings for the Rio Games have remained in the single-digits. Ratings for women's group archery  — one of the most popular competitions locally as South Korea has never lost the Olympic team title — were embarrassingly low, just 2.6 percent on KBS1, 3.6 percent on MBC and 2.5 percent on SBS, the three networks that share coverage of the Games. That was, however, also due to the time difference between Seoul and Rio, which meant the event took place at 5 a.m. local time in Korea.

Overall, linear TV ratings for the Olympics have dipped worldwide. In Europe, they are sharply down from the 2012 London Games, a drop only partially explained by the time difference. Only 2 million German viewers watched the Opening Ceremony in Rio on public channel ZDF, compared to the 7.66 million that caught the start of the London Olympics four years ago. But that figure also was sharply down from the 7.7 million that watched the opening of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Lower Ad Revenue Could Drive Legacy Networks Away

Lower ratings, of course, mean lower ad revenue. In South Korea, TV ads during the Rio Olympics are being priced at around 6 billion Korean won ($5.4 million), or about a third of the cost of a spot on the same channels during the London Games.

When the Rio Games wrap Aug. 21, broadcasters worldwide will reassess their financial commitments to the Olympics and crunch the numbers to see if it was all worth it. In Germany, the public broadcasters, who have always carried the Games, may lose out if they can't strike a deal with Discovery, who paid $1.45 billion for rights to all summer and winter Olympics in Europe from 2018-2024. A recent report in German newspaper FAZ said licensing talks with Discovery were breaking down, with the pubwebs unwilling to meet Discovery's price demands.

Losing the Olympics would be a blow for any of the world's “legacy” networks, but — given the decline in linear TV viewing and accompanying advertising revenue and the rising cost of covering the Games across multiple platforms — many old-school nets might feel the Olympics aren't worth the money.

In Mexico this year, for the first time, the country's top two commercial broadcasters, Televisa and TV Azteca, decided not to carry the Olympics, leaving the Games to telecom giant America Movil, which acquired rights to all platforms in 17 Latin American countries, excluding Brazil. Movil sub-licensed rights to Mexican public broadcasters Canal 11 and Canal 22. Forbes Mexico estimates Televisa and TV Azteca will lose a combined $45 million in revenue as a result. Instead, the networks are investing their sports budgets in major soccer tournaments such as the Copa America and the UEFA Champions League, which pull in higher ratings than the Olympics and come with lower productions costs.

Post-Rio, it is a move cash-strapped networks worldwide might start to emulate.

Nyay Bhushan in Mumbai, Alex Ritman in London, Pip Bulbeck in Sydney, Etan Vlessing in Toronto, Hyo-Won Lee in Seoul, Nick Holdsworth in Moscow, Gavin Blair in Tokyo, Rhonda Richford in Paris, Ariston Anderson in Rome, Agustin Mango in Buenos Aires and John Hecht in Mexico City contributed to this report.

 

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