NBC boss dings BBC for playing Olympic favourites

The Eh Game

It's one of those things that could be considered ironic.

NBC boss Dick Ebersol is criticizing the BBC for being too chummy with British athletes during their coverage of the Olympics and the critique has not been welcomed.

'The BBC  will cut away from races to show a British athlete who is finishing fifth. They openly root for their athletes on the air. It's a different approach, but we have never done that," Ebersol is quoted as saying, in The Daily Mail.

[Related: NBC pulls 'creepy' Olympic video]

He went on: "Nobody ever uses the word 'we' in our  coverage and, if they did, they wouldn't last long. We do as many features on foreign athletes as Americans.  We tell the best stories  wherever we can find them."

It may be that last little tidbit at the end that had an unnamed BBC spokesperson retorting: "Has he ever watched his own channel?"

Ebersol is correct on one point and that is that it is rare indeed to hear an American commentator lose their grip on at least some impartiality and get unacceptably giddy around the performances of their athletes. You almost never hear one of them say "we" instead of "the Americans."

The same is largely true here in Canada. It is thought to be bad form to say "we" whether you're covering the nation's endeavours on the world stage, or your local major junior hockey team's exploits at the rink down the street. When there are slip-ups in that area, it usually comes from a former athlete who has not too long before been separated from competition.

[More: Canada must step up to maintain women's soccer success]

"There's a great tradition in American television of professionalism in coverage, and I believe we live up to that tradition," said Ebersol.

Perhaps his shot across the bow of the Brits has come in exasperated fashion. NBC has been continuing to take volley after volley over their decision to air big Olympic events, including the opening ceremony and both of Usain Bolt's sprint victories, in tape delay fashion, during prime time hours.

Indeed, Ebersol seems to have had enough of the criticism. From the Sports On Earth website and a column by Joe Posnanski:

"It amazes me that we are still talking about this," Ebersol said. "If someone wants to watch the Olympics live, they can do that online. That's a very small percentage of people. We've done study after study where we ask people when they want to watch the Olympics. They say after dinner. Every study, I've never seen it less than 80%, and it's usually a lot higher than that."

As has been well documented in this column during the games, NBC is doing just fine in the ratings, not so much with the critics. The notion that the network tells "the best stories wherever we can find them," as Ebersol claims, is questionable.

It's long been known that Americans care about stories about Americans and little else. Fair enough that their Olympic broadcaster would concentrate on stories found in Sacramento, or Kansas City or Flagstaff. Canadians see plenty of stories found in Victoria, Montreal or Oakville. Just don't pretend it's not that way. What Ebersol and NBC would deem to be the best stories are the ones their viewers tell them are the best stories. Rarely would those stories be about the Usain Bolts of the world.

As well, let's not pretend that the BBC is the only network that cares more about how their country is doing than the others. NBC is a perfect example of that.

[Also: Canada's Mark de Jonge paddles to bronze medal]

After being asked to vacate their ringside seats at the boxing venue for being too loud, an NBC crew opted to leave the facility altogether.

Said an official with boxing's governing body, the AIBA: "They claimed that since no boxers from the USA were still in the running, they didn't want to stay anyway."

They'll be back, though.

NBC said it was not true to say its commentary team had left for this reason and that it would be addressing the matter with the International Olympic Committee.

"That is inaccurate and we will be calling the remaining bouts for the US television audience, as planned," an NBC spokesman said in an emailed statement, referring to the AIBA quoting its commentary team as not wanting to stay.

"There are two sides to every story. We'll address the matter with the IOC after the Games conclude," the statement added. -The Guardian

As if all that isn't enough, NBC is now being taken to the woodshed over a video feature called "Bodies in Motion," seen by many as nothing more than an adolescent type of objectification of female Olympic athletes.

This last two weeks may have been very frustrating for NBC executives. Not surprising that one of them would try to deflect some of that criticism with a blast at another broadcaster.

As well, they can take solace in counting up all their prime time money. According to the network, what was thought would be as much as a $200 million loss on these Olympics, will now actually be in the neighbourhood of a break even deal.

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