An Olympic level failure

We need to work on how we cover the Olympics in the future

Like many other Americans, I enjoy watching the Olympic Games when they come around. This time was no different, at least at the beginning. Now, the enjoyment of the games is still there, but it’s being impeded by one thing: coverage. 

In America, broadcasting rights for the Olympics are in the hands of NBC Universal. They chose to air the majority of the coverage of the games on the channels NBC and USA Network, with some coverage being pushed to CNBC. They also had streams of the games on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service.

At the beginning of the games, NBC did well in their coverage. During the opening ceremony, they acknowledged the concerns many had about the Olympics. These included the alleged imprisonment of Uyghur Muslims in host-nation China, and the fact that athletes from Russia were competing under the Russian Olympic Committee, instead of their country’s flag.

When it came to the coverage of the games themselves, things began to deteriorate. On Feb. 9, U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin failed to complete her run in the slalom event. Instead of moving on and showing the rest of the event, NBC kept the cameras on Shiffrin as she sat on the side of the course, seemingly in shock. For 20, minutes all viewers saw was a woman sitting dejectedly on the side of a mountain. And what did the commentators do in this moment? They talked about how much of a disappointment her run was. This did not go over well.

Viewers took to social media to express their frustrations with NBC and the commentators, causing the topic to trend on Twitter. Things only got worse when it was decided that the best time for an interview was when Shiffrin was still emotional and trying to fight off tears. During the interview, Shiffrin said that she was second-guessing her entire skiing career. 

Things got so bad for the network that Molly Solomon, the executive producer of Olympic coverage, made a statement in an interview with the Associated Press that the network was obligated to cover that moment instead of continuing with the games themselves. A hard statement to understand when the viewers, including myself, seemingly disagreed.

The situation brought up comparisons to the Summer Olympics in August. In the summer the athletes’ mental health became a huge point after gymnast Simone Biles pulled out of events due to her own mental health, among other issues. NBC was accused of not caring about Shiffrin’s mental health after championing Biles’ decision and making it a talking point.

Then came the biggest controversy in the Olympics. Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva testing positive for a banned substance, yet she was still allowed to compete. While there was prevalent outrage online from fans and former skaters, NBC commentators and former Olympians Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir were noticeably silent for days after it was announced that Valieva would still skate. When they finally spoke up on social media, their responses were seen as shallow, especially after they gave her excessive praise before this news came out. 

If the online reactions aren’t enough to prove that NBC’s Olympic coverage is doing a sub-par job, the ratings also display the lack of desire people have to tune in. Only 7.25 million Americans watched the first night’s primetime coverage, a record low for the Olympics, according to the Nielsen score. The scores haven’t been much better since.

Coverage of the Olympics only reached above 20 million this year. This was partly because of the coverage that aired after the Super Bowl, when many people were already tuned in to NBC for the game. 

NBC is responsible for the Olympic’s coverage in the U.S. through 2032. If they want people to continue watching, they need to do better when it comes to handling their coverage. NBC needs to stick to covering the games as they happen, have some empathy during coverage and in interviews and know what people actually care about, because no one wanted to see someone cry on the side of a mountain for 20 minutes.