This Tuesday night will be celebratory at my house. Why? Regular TV will be back! Actually it returns on Monday, but there is nothing on Monday nights that we watch. On Tuesday we will tune into the Middle at 8 on ABC and I will watch This is Us on NBC at 9. The tissue box and remote will be close at hand.
And if something happens that prevents us from watching? No problem, we will just catch them the next day.
For more than 2 weeks, there has been almost no original scripted programming as most networks defer to the tradition of watching the Olympics. In truth, they don't want to compete with the competition, either the network airing the event or the events themselves. It's sort of un-American to try to persuade us to watch something other than those who have worked so hard for the chance to represent their country in their sport.
Apparently though many, many of us have been watching something else or nothing at all. NBC had 14 million viewers this past Thursday night - the night of the ladies figure skating final which is usually one of their top events. That seems pretty good until you consider that The Big Bang Theory brings in that many viewers every week for a fictional show you can watch easily the next day usually spoiler free. Looking at Thursday February 1 as an example, BBT had 14.5 million. Another nearly 9 million viewers are watching Grey's Anatomy over on ABC at the same time. Eight and a half million more are split between NBC, Fox and the CW all on a typical Thursday at 8 pm. When you do the math, NBC only captured just over 40% of the broadcast viewing audience.
Now NBC's numbers (nor any of the others I sited) contain viewers who watch on-line. The trouble with NBC is they made it so difficult to watch the Olympics on-line. If I miss the Big Bang Theory, I can go to CBS.com the next day and watch it. I can watch that episode for several weeks until a certain number of new episodes bump it off. Anyone in the US can watch it on-line. NBC makes their regular scripted programming available to watch on-line the next day.
But what about the Olympics? What if I don't want to watch 3 hours at one time or stay up until midnight to see who claims the ladies singles figure skating gold?
Tough luck. As far as I can tell, I can only watch 45 minutes of Olympic coverage because we do not have a cable or Dish provider. We use an antennae and get our TV over the air. Despite the overwhelming number of commercials which I'm sure are in the on-line portion as well as broadcast, NBC doesn't let those of us who don't pay for basic TV anywhere near the bulk of the games without suffering through hours of coverage each evening often going until midnight.
This is what NBC does not get. People don't want to watch TV at a specific time. We no longer want to watch 20 minutes of commercials every hour.
We want content. Hulu, Amazon and Netflix have given us the best of TV. We can watch when we want and we can get excellent content for our viewing time. The time difference made the Olympics a bit of a challenge but we almost always have some time differences to deal with.
So here is my wish list for making watching the Olympics a better experience:
1. Create an online viewing subscription option separate from the cable companies. Partner with Hulu or one of the other providers as does Showtime and HBO. And I'm not talking about an option to watch live but to view taped events so people can watch just what events they want. Commercials are fine if needed to keep the costs down. As long as we can skip the commentary, I think people would buy into this for the convenience.
2. When the time difference will cause viewing to go past 11 pm on a regular basis, plan to tape delay the programming. Figure skating is a big draw so make it available for people to actually watch and cut out the filler by...
3. Firing at least half the commentators. They are completely unnecessary. It's irritating to know that Tara Lipinski was actually paid money to say over and over again "she really wants a gold medal," "He came here to win," "They have their eyes on the podium." Well, duh! Don't all the athletes envision themselves with a medal around their necks? Isn't that the point of all that hard work? We don't want them talking over the performances as they relive their own glory days.
3. During live events when time is needed to scrape the ice or for the next set of skaters to warm up, why not show us one of the earlier skaters on tape? Fill the time by showing the work of these athletes, not by exercising the jaws of those who have had their moments in past Olympics.
4. Drop the meaningless interviews of athletes asking them how they 'felt' to lose or to win particularly when they lose. That's just mean.
5. Another annoyance was the amount of time spent on qualifying runs. Personally I think almost all of the events other than skating are beyond boring. But to have to watch people slalom down the same hill over and over for qualifying and then again for the actual event is just double boredom. No wonder so few people watched.
6. Keep the cameras on the athletes.
7. Make the figure skating gala which was apparently a taped event into an Event. Run it all at once without cutting over to other competitions. Have one skater after another with a reasonable number commercials. Having a 4 minute skate followed by 5 minutes of commercials every. single. time. was just greedy. We know you need the commercials to make money but the same Chevy commercial ran over and over again until viewers would start holding a grudge against the advertiser rather than being persuaded to buy.
8. Announce upcoming events with times displayed on the screen. Networks have no problem putting stuff on the bottom of our screens during regular programming yet during the Olympics if you wanted to know what time something was coming up, you had to be listening or look at the TV at just the right few seconds to see the announcement. Face it, people want to watch certain events. Clearly from the ratings, viewers will not be bullied into watching everything just to see what they want to see.
Not only was viewership down but this was the least buzzed about Olympics I can recall. The only time anything related to the Olympics trended on Twitter that I noticed was when there was a costume mishap. I participate in two message boards. Early posts about the games were quickly lost in discussions about current events, hobbies and other things we regularly discuss. A few posts popped up near the end but the responses were slim compared to other discussions. No where did I go in the last 2 weeks, that anyone mentioned the Olympics. I brought it up with a group of friends but the conversation quickly fizzled.
Personally, if I never saw another Olympics my life would go on just fine but I realize that many people enjoy the biannual event and athletes work incredibly hard to be seen. It's would be a shame for the Olympics to fade into history because a network is so greedy and set in their ways that they can't reach their audience.