NBC Gets No Respect

Mobilize 2,500 people, ship tons of equipment overseas and conduct the largest, most complicated media asset management operation ever undertaken in television, and what do you get?


TV Technology received the following letter from Steven Bradford of Tempe, Ariz.:

"I just read the article 'Less Filling, Works Great,' by Art Daudelin [Aug. 4, p.10], and once again you're peddling the fiction that NBC puts on the Olympics show. Can we get at least a tiny bit of coverage of the people really doing the heavy lifting for NBC's wrap-arounds and inane announcing staff? Please, cover at least a little bit about Athens Olympic Broadcasting."

Actually, it was indeed noted in that same issue that the Olympics International Broadcast Centre would become the largest broadcaster in the world during the Olympics, and that the Athens Olympic Broadcasting would be using four HD trucks for coverage of several events. We believe this constitutes "at least a tiny bit of coverage."

No one here is denying that the IOC and the host broadcaster, the AOB, are lifting heavy items. But neither is it likely that members of the 2,500-strong NBC production crew are having leisurely games of Pong, particularly since they are generating nearly three times more coverage than they did for the Sydney games.

"The Washington Post" received a similar letter, scolding TV critic Tom Shales for giving NBC "too much credit," since, according to the writer, the network was just passing through the AOB feed.

What the NBC production team in Athens is actually doing is a bit more complicated than a dressed-up pass though. Multiple feeds coming into IBC, comprising an average of more than 1,100 hours a day, are being recorded, labeled and stored on a 29-petabyte server (1,125,899,906,842,624 bytes = one petabyte); then streamed as low-res proxies to the army of editors who then turn the material around for the telecast.

That's not exactly pass-through with voice-overs and bookends, but the nature of television belies its own complicated nature. Viewers don't see the director spending the games holed up in front of a bank of monitors. They don't see techies laying miles of cable and building state-of-the-art production facilities on the spot. They see Bob Costas say, "Djibouti, you betcha booty," for which one astute viewer suggested he have his vocal chords removed.

NBC is also taking some heat for its HD coverage, since the programming on the HD feed is delayed by a full day. It's also not available in some markets where NBC affiliates have yet to crank on the HD, or on cable in Wichita, Kan, for example, where the Emmis-owned NBC affiliate is holding out for a carriage fee.

The standoff between KSN-Channel 3 and Cox was covered by the Wichita Eagle, which quoted the general manager of KSN telling people to call the station for help with over-the-air HD reception.

So TV Technology called, and after being routed through the newsroom, where the staff had no idea what we were talking about, we were connected to an engineer who asked to be identified as "the engineering department."

"We've had 30 to 40 calls, which is a pretty good representation that there are a number of sets out there," said the engineering department.

"We're passing through 24/7 HD NBC coverage," he said. "I figured that was going to be front-line, real-time coverage. It's a day later than that. I hope people aren't too disappointed. I haven't heard any complaints about the programming itself."

The ads are another story, or shall we say "ad." Sony's "sponsorship" of the HD feed apparently consists of a single Wega ad featuring a dude named Tom, who has an HD set, and about 650 or so of his friends, who do not. So every few minutes, intrepid viewers of the Olympics in HD are treated to a male chorus of "HEY TOM....WATCHA DOIN'?"

The upside, as one viewer observed in the Seattle Times, is that the HD feed is Costas-less.