Defensive, Denial, Patrician Posture Hurts NBC More Than Anything Else

Though ratings and viewer numbers are reportedly up, it’s probably safe to say that this Olympics isn’t going the way NBC wanted it to, from a perception standpoint. When you add up all the numbers afterward, the Peacock network will undoubtedly set all kinds of records for minutes of coverage viewed, streamed and talked about. But it’ll be hard to call it a win if NBC keeps acting the way it has so far.

Right now the buzz on the broadcast of the games is almost all bad, and every day NBC seems to step into it a little bit deeper. And I don’t think it’s all about the tape-delay decisions and the inevitable slipups of trying to keep information secret for five hours, nor is it about the numerous reported technical glitches with the network’s ambitious online efforts.

Instead, it’s about NBC’s attitude, from execs surfacing on Twitter telling people where to stuff their criticisms, to today’s inexplicable move to get partner Twitter to pull a critic’s account. Instead of trying to help people understand the awesomeness of their production, NBC is acting like a mad dictator, trying to stomp out critics by belittling or trying to expel those who don’t see things NBC’s way. While the Games may make money for NBC, I wonder how long the negative fallout will last if the network keeps up its defensive, patrician posture of denial and aloofness.

It’s too bad because it could have been so simple for NBC to get the innerwebs on its side. Instead of trumpeting out loud how great the online part of its broadcasts would be, NBC should have taken a “beta release” approach and asked for immediate feedback from users to help improve the experience. When you step back and look at what NBC is trying to do, it’s an incredible undertaking to not only capture but organize and stream every single Olympic event. That’s never happened before, with any sporting event, ever. It should be something the tech-savvy sports viewing world is rallying around, saying, “whoa, this is way cool!”

Instead, NBC’s lack of decent support, explanations or help for the numerous glitches in its online offering — when coupled with the requirement of a cable contract for online viewing — turned what is obviously still a version 1.0 experiment into something that customers expected a lot more out of because, well, they’re PAYING for it. And NBC said it was going to be great! Compared to the online/app productions for other big sporting events, like the Masters golf tourney, the NBC Olympics online effort is one being humbled by its own ambition. Though it is stunning in its breadth and depth it will be remembered more for its failings, not for the least because NBC has become so defensive about any criticisms so far.

The danger in promoting something as “the first social Olympics” is that if you don’t understand how social really works, the potential is there for it to bite you in your own digital ass. I remember the first time I saw a live Twitter feed during a conference — even at some obscure tech gathering, normally normal people went all Hope Solo on the proceedings, bitching and complaining about the way panelists looked, talked and thought. And they did this while the panelists were still on stage! People who are now going online chiding Twitterers for their banal complaints don’t quite understand that out-loud snark and whining are a big part of what Twitter and other social media is. It’s not a well thought out treatise on anything, it’s a knee-jerk reaction. What many in social-media land haven’t yet learned is that because Tweets can be saved, embedded and studied over time, their funny thought might live on a lot longer in infamy. NBC execs, clearly, don’t get that Twitter is off the cuff commentary that should be instantly forgotten (following Brandi Chastain’s example) and that telling critics to shut up on Twitter is kindling fueling the #NBCfail fire.

The tape-delay thing is just more patrician denial in action — “you will watch what we want you to watch, when we decide.” Never mind that many in London are tweeting results (remember, it’s the “social Olympics”! Hooray!) hours before NBC’s prime time broadcasts. Instead of doing it the old, busted way and telling everyone to go scratch, why couldn’t NBC do something really innovative and fun on one of those informercial channels it owns — say, show big events live in real time for those who want to watch them then? And then have more fun with the prime time program later?

Even a sideline viewer like me knows enough about the digital business to know that giving people more ways to watch content doesn’t drive down the main, produced product — in fact I would bet that viewership of the prime time programs would increase, especially when people saw events in real time — they would tune in later for expanded interviews, analysis, etc. And medal ceremonies. Again, NBC could have taken a “beta” approach here — tried it out early, saying, “send us your feedback! Did you watch it live and then again later?” But instead of involving or partnering with its worldwide audience, NBC took another route. For our sake and theirs, I hope it changes quickly. There’s still time to do this right, NBC, and get everyone on your side. But you better start with losing the attitude. That’s the biggest #fail of all.


  1. The author is absolutely right. NBC think it’s smarter than everyone else. What a shame. It make the network look foolish. And then to have network PR folks comments on others’ Twitter remarks . . . well, that makes the network look like it’s not confident in what it’s doing.

  2. UPDATE: It appears Twitter has reinstated the critic’s account, after NBC withdrew its request. But everyone should read Dave Winer’s post (link below) for a good reminder that Twitter is not a utility, but a service from a for-profit, private company.

  3. Update 2: Twitter has responded with a blog post that tries to say it was doing the right thing, but then admits that it screwed up:


  1. […] What this tells us — and what we hope NBC and other old school broadcasters can digest — is that despite massive online consumption of content, the golden-goose prime time broadcasts aren’t harmed. In fact prime time is even bigger and better than ever for NBC, despite all the criticisms which we believe are warranted. […]

  2. […] we hope, of course, is that they learn the lesson NBC learned the hard way — that people want the ability to see events LIVE, whenever they are […]

  3. […] we hope, of course, is that they learn the lesson NBC learned the hard way — that people want the ability to see events LIVE, whenever they are […]

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