Stephen Baker

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NBC's Olympics: Real time vs. prime time

February 19, 2010News

I was driving through snow in Pittsburgh on Monday and listening to KDKA to hear the traffic reports about bridges and tunnels. Crawling between Oakland and the Ft. Pitt tunnel I probably heard three times that Bode Miller had won the bronze in downhill skiing.

So I mentioned that fact at dinner, and quickly learned that I'd drained the suspense from that evening's family entertainment. This is something I often deal with myself. When I TiVo the World Series or big football games, I take measures to buffer myself from real-time news. (When my second son was in high school, he had this down an an art.) I listen to NPR in the car, avoid the Yahoo or New York Times home page and steer clear of Twitter and Facebook. As information proliferates, maintaining this bubble of ignorance is becoming more and more difficult. But it's my choice, and I work at it.

But there are millions of sports lovers who think I'm crazy. They insist on real-time and endure all the commercials. They think the idea of staying in the dark is ridiculous, and what's more, they love talking and IMing with their friends while the event is happening. I profiled one such media consumer, a Penn State student, years ago.

By holding back the Olympics for prime time, NBC is running against real-time viewers, against users of Facebook and Twitter. As Tech Crunch notes, it's making people angry. Maybe NBC should air the events twice, once raw in real time, a second time, edited and manicured for the prime-time crowd. In any case, I'm not surprised that NBC lost the ratings battle this week to American Idol.

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