Olympic broadcasts lacked suspense, compelling ads

At the moment, when it comes to sports in Europe, there is only one thing on everyone’s mind. I refer, of course, to the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy. The Olympic Games take place only once every four years, and at the games, athletes from all over the world compete — but foremost, they meet.

The Olympic spirit appeals to the idea of one united world and also incorporates the idea of freedom and peace between nations. In Europe, for these reasons, the Olympic Games are considered far more important than any national sports event. In all media, the Olympic games have a very prominent place. Television channels show as many of the events as possible and, of course, all broadcasts are live.

But in the U.S., it’s a different story. While many are certainly excited to watch the games — especially some of the more popular events such as figure skating and downhill skiing — enthusiasm for the Olympics is limited. In newspapers, articles about the Olympics and reports of results are buried at the bottom of the page or deep within the newspaper, among lesser news stories. Live transmissions of Olympic events are rare, even though the time difference in Italy would easily allow simultaneous broadcasts at a watchable hour in the U.S. Some people, for example students, would have the time to watch the events during the day. Instead, NBC shows nearly no Olympic events live, but broadcasts the “highlights” of the day during prime time at night.

To be sure, Americans care about the Olympics. But to understand the contrast, imagine if the Super Bowl were taped rather than broadcast live, with a delay of six hours. Would anybody still watch it? Would anybody still shriek, jump around, eat and drink like crazy? Probably not. Therein lies the problem with Olympics broadcasts. It is nice to watch the performance of figure skater Sasha Cohen, but if we already know which medal she will win (as reported on numerous Web sites minutes after the event concludes), how much suspense is left?

The problem lies in various aspects of the broadcast. Besides being broadcast live, for contrast, the Super Bowl boasts ads that have a least some humor value. The same is not true for Olympic broadcasts. Not only there are far too many ads, worse, they are repetitive and annoying. The car advertisement genre contains some particularly offensive specimens. Often, attempts to sell products by tying them to the Olympic theme only leave viewers puzzled — or annoyed. It might be interesting to know that engineers can build cars that can fit eight bobsledders easily, but who really needs to fit eight people in a car? Furthermore, companies can call a car whatever they like, but in the interest of sensitivity they should not name it Avalanche. Avalanches are uncontrollable slides that kill hundreds of people each year. Besides fitting in with the theme of snow, ice and winter landscapes of the Olympics, what has an avalanche to do with a car?

Watching the Olympics in the U.S. is only half the fun of watching them in Europe. This is squarely the fault of those broadcasting the event. I really hope American broadcasters will learn from these problems with broadcasting international sporting events and implement improvements for the World Cup of Soccer. I want to see my country playing live and without being interrupted by any Avalanches.



Matthias Helble is a fourth-year graduate student in economics. He is a visiting Ph.D. student from the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva.

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