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July 28, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

If NBC was hoping to win back the goodwill and admiration of viewers with its $1-billion Olympics package, it certainly got off on the wrong foot on Friday as it delayed the telecast of the Opening Ceremony until primetime in the U.S., refused to make it available online, and actively policed the Internet to make certain that no unauthorized version of the ceremony turned up for more than a few minutes. Moreover, viewers did not discover until the last minute that NBC’s much-publicized effort to make every Olympic event available via streaming applied only to persons who could first prove that they subscribed to a cable or satellite service. The network’s efforts were not altogether successful, as many Facebook users posted video on their pages and other users opened VPN (virtual private network) accounts that, in effect, fooled servers into thinking that they were watching from Canada or the U.K., where the ceremony was carried live online. NBC’s strategy — essentially aimed at boosting ratings during primetime and thereby assure advertisers of the largest possible audience — ignited hundreds of complaints from viewers in general and media critics in particular. Even the British ambassador to the U.S., Sir Peter Westmacott, added his voice to the chorus of complaints, pointedly noting during a TV interview in Washington D.C. that the U.S. was the only country in the world that was not carrying the ceremony live. Indeed, it was expected to draw its biggest audience in China, despite the fact that it was broadcast there in the middle of the night.

Drawing particular criticism was NBC’s decision to live tweet the ceremony while its viewers had nothing to tweet about. “Hilariously stupid” was the way one Twitter user reacted. Another: “NBC making an incredible bid for gold medal for Stupidest Network Ever.” Ina Fried of the Wall Street Journal‘s AllThingsD blog tweeted: “Really, @NBCOlympics, you tweet and re-tweet about what is happening the opening ceremonies but not let us see it until tonight?” Matt Wells, who oversees the Guardian‘s U.S. blog, tweeted, “NBC showing complete contempt for its audience by not showing or streaming Olympics opening ceremony live.” Even Katie Jacobs Stanton, who heads Twitter’s international strategy, chimed in: “Our friends in Europe are speechless watching the opening ceremonies,” she wrote about the massive international tweeting accompanying the live telecast. “Too bad we’re viewless in the U.S.” On her Deadline.com blog, Nikki Finke pointed the finger at Olympics executive producer Jim Bell, commenting,”NBC once again is screwing with (and screwing up) American viewers’ Olympics. Which begs the question: why does the IOC keep handing the games on a platinum platter to the Numbskull Broadcasting Company?”

For its part, NBC said that it had limited its coverage of the opening ceremonies to the network in order to provide “context” to the event. Yahoo! Sports commented: “If this is the best way for the network to make back the [$1 billion they spent for the Olympic rights] then who are we to complain? But don’t insult our intelligence with nonsense like [their] statement.” SBNation’s Brian Floyd was among those who complained that far from providing “context,” the coverage was full of trivial chatter and its announcers were even unable to identify Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Internet, advising viewers to look him up on Google. Linda Holmes of NPR referred to NBC’s “flawed (and unrelenting) commentary.” A collection of tweets on Storify about the commentary by Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira was headed “Shut Up, Matt Lauer.” Among them: “Okay, I have decided that Matt Lauer’s state-the-obvious commentary is what really irritates me about the #olympicceremony. Shut up, man.” Another: “Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera… Shut up and just let me watch the show. I don’t need the blather.” Another: “This would be 10 x better with scrolling text so these two goofs could shut up.”

Offsetting all that criticism of NBC’s coverage was praise for the production itself. The New York Times‘s Sarah Lyall called it “hilariously quirky … noisy,buys, witty, dizzying.” The Associated Press described it as “brilliant. Cheeky, too.” For the Los Angeles Times‘s Robert Lloyd it was “by turns moving, bizarre, funny and exciting, and often surprisingly dark; certainly it was never dull. It had at times a quality of seeming completely random even as one suspected that repeated viewings would reveal all sorts of connections and echoes and interior rhymes.” At Australia’s The Age newspaper, critic Greg Baum commented that director Boyle “got the balance and tone just right. … His show did not take itself too seriously, but was never trivial. It was irreverent, but never disrespectful. It was clever, but did not outsmart itself. It was at once subversive and sublime.” Chicago Tribune sports columnist David Haugh wrote: “All over the world, they will remember this as the night Britain put on a show that was bloody fantastic.” In China, which staged a gaudy extravaganza four years ago, Chen Chenxi in People’s Daily remarked, “If the Olympics opening ceremony can change from dazzling to being simple without losing warmth and from sumptuous extravagance to being calm but fully creative, it will increasingly return to the core values of the Olympic movement.” On the other hand, USA Today TV critic Robert Bianco wrote, “It was delightful at times, to be sure. But just as often, it was trying so hard to create magic and impart meaning that it became impenetrable.”