The fact that news consumers – both readers and viewers alike – don’t need to be told what to consume anymore is not news. The fact that they want to be part of the process is not news. But the fact that at least one journalist has had his Twitter account disabled after criticizing NBC’s handling of its Olympic coverage is indeed out of the ordinary.
Before the London 2012 Olympic Games began, it was said that they were to be the social media games – that is, the first time that Twitter and Facebook would play a pivotal role in the coverage of Olympic events.
As well, sports have been lauded as the bread-and-butter of broadcasting – that is, they are “PVR-proof,” because viewers want to watch sporting events live as they happen, according to sports journalists at the Canadian Association of Journalists conference in April.
So why has NBC decided to put its coverage of the Olympics on tape delay?
Guy Adams is The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent and was perhaps NBC’s biggest critic on Twitter. That is, until he tweeted the corporate email address of NBC Olympic President Gary Zenkel as part of a string of tweets criticizing the company for its decision to tape-delay its coverage of high-profile events.
— Kevin Rawlinson (@KevinJRawlinson) July 30, 2012
Adams was told by Twitter support that his account was suspended because posting a private email address is against Twitter’s rules.
However, as Adams points out, what he shared was merely a corporate email address that “is widely available to anyone with access to Google, and is identical [in form] to one that all of the tens of thousands of NBC Universal employees share.”
(Twitter’s policy, which states that posting “non-public, personal email addresses” are a violation of Twitter’s rules, can be found here.)
Adams shared the emails he exchanged with Twitter support with Deadspin’s Josh Koblin. Koblin also compiled the slew of NBC-critical tweets that Adams sent out using Topsy, including the one that contained Zenkel’s email address.
Adams' suspension the latest #NBCfail
The origins of the #NBCfail hashtag were not, initially, complaints about tape delays. The start was complaints about the lackluster quality of the network's narration around Olympic events, starting with two millionaire journalists reveling in their ignorance of the identity of opening ceremony star and inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee ("Google him," one anchor flippantly advised).
It would be nice, if nothing else, for our TV personalities to elevate the proceedings, particularly since NBC explained the need for its tape delay by claiming it would provide "context".
The complaints about the decision to tape delay important events, starting with the opening ceremonies, came later. (Of note here is the fact that NBC aired an edited version of the ceremonies – a version that omitted the tribute to the 7/7 terrorist attack victims.)
Now, the #NBCfail hashtag has largely been taken over by news and commentary about Adams’ suspension.
Old media in a new landscape
If there was to be an Olympics of the media, this would surely be a marquee event: Old media vs. new; Legacy modes of dissemination vs. hashtags; advertising ideals born in the television heyday vs. participatory engagement and social sharing.
The fact that readers and viewers don’t need to be told what to consume anymore is not news. The fact that they want to be part of the process is not news. But the fact that at least one journalist has had his Twitter account disabled after criticizing NBC’s handling of its Olympic coverage is indeed out of the ordinary.
These new realities are perhaps why there are no longer any Canadian broadcasters bidding for the rights to the 2014 and 2016 Olympics. As The Globe and Mail’s Steve Ladurantaye points out: Canadian broadcasters “aren’t convinced the old model will still work only a few years from now as more consumers move online.”
Bell Media and CBC/Radio-Canada walked away from their joint bid for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics last month after the International Olympic Committee turned down their bids.
"We presented not one, but two fiscally responsible bids that are reflective of the Canadian marketplace," Phil King, president of CTV programming and sports, said in a statement at the time. "Unfortunately, we were not able to reach agreement on terms with the IOC."
But as Ladurantaye points out: “Unlike the Canadian broadcasters who are threatening to walk away completely because of high costs, NBC doesn’t have the luxury of sitting out the next time Olympians gather to compete. It signed a $4.38-billion deal last year that will see it broadcasting through 2020.”
What it comes down to, argues Public Parts author Jeff Jarvis, is that NBC is “trying to preserve old business models in a new reality.” This is, of course, a strategy that doesn’t work. He continues:
To experiment with alternatives when billions are at stake is risky. But so is not experimenting and not learning when millions of your viewers can complain about you on Twitter.
The bottom-line lesson for all media is that business models built on imprisonment, on making us do what you want us to do because you give us no choice, is no strategy for the future. And there's only so long you can hold off the future.