Olympics • Yeah, prime-time coverage is taped. You wanna make something of it?
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Bob Costas is about to host NBC's prime-time coverage of the Olympics for the ninth time, and he's a bit prickley with the press.
Actually, if you mention the fact that he's hosting it all on tape-delay, he gets downright defensive.
Not without reason. For decades, he's been hearing the criticism that NBC withholds key events from live telecast in order to tape-delay them in prime time.
"I understand ... people's demand for information immediately," Costas said in a conference call with reporters. "I also understand that it's a lot easier if you're writing for newspaper X to say with righteous indignation, 'This is some sort of outrage.' And yet if that person swapped jobs that day with [NBC Sports executives], they would either do exactly the same thing, or they would be fired and then taken to a sanitarium."
He has a point. There is no God-given right to see a sporting event on TV. NBC pays billions of dollars for the American broadcast rights to the Olympics, so the network can do it the way it wants.
In past Games that didn't take place in North America, that meant saving top events for prime time. NBC didn't do itself any favors, insulting viewers' intelligence by calling it "plausibly live," but policy was to put the big events on when most people were watching TV instead of early in the morning or in the middle of the night.
And Costas clearly resents all the criticism that came from newspaper columnists.
"The newspaper has not invested billions of dollars in rights fees and production fees," he said. "And it's a simple, straightforward business decision that now has been modified, I think, in an enlightened way to allow for the changes in the way people consume information."
For the first time, Americans will be able to see every bit of the Summer Olympics live. Not only will there be lots of live events on NBC during the day, but on sister networks NBCSN, Bravo, CNBC and MSNBC and special basketball and soccer channels. If you subscribe to a cable or satellite package that includes both CNBC and MSNBC, you can sign up to stream every event live on the Internet.
And NBC's prime-time coverage will remain a collection of taped highlights because of the time difference.
"The audience will know when these events are on tape," Costas said. "But they will be presented in such a way, that if you didn't want to know, you can enjoy it that way."
And he's still clearly ticked off about allegations that NBC misrepresented taped events as live which he put down the occasional slip of the lip. Anything that makes it sound that way will be inadvertent because "in thousands of utterances, once or twice, accidentally, has the wrong tense been used."
"We try to be very, very vigilant about that. We do not say, 'Michael Phelps now goes to the line in pursuit of gold medal number 15.' We say, 'He went to the pool in pursuit of gold medal number 15.' There is no attempt to deceive."
Instead, there's an "enlightened" attempt "to maintain a certain atmosphere in which if the person watching chooses to experience as if he or she knows nothing about it, they can."
And if any dumb ol' newspaper columnist chooses to complain about it, well, he/she will clearly have Costas' contempt.
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter: @ScottDPierce.