Erick Erickson / July 30, 2021

The Olympics Monopoly

NBC’s pathetic spin on Olympic coverage.

This is the first time I can remember an Olympic Games with so little media conversation around it. With the exception of the Simone Biles incident, people seem less inclined to pay attention. Advertisers are fretting as well that attention has declined and viewership is down.

One of the natures of a monopoly is there is very little incentive to provide a great product at a low price. It is a reason government-run entities tend to come in overbudget with a worse product than private sector entities. With no competition, there is no reason to innovate, improve or seek efficiencies.

Much of the blame for our national lack of attention should be with NBC. Yes, an Olympics halfway around the world and already a day ahead of us is harder to cover, but NBC has made it even harder. A television network owned by a cable company that has a monopoly on coverage is probably destined to provide cable-company-quality service.

My friends and I have tried watching. But where do we go? The games are spread across multiple channels, and we are cord cutters. To watch, one must get the NBC app, the NBC Sports app and the terrible-to-use-and-navigate Peacock app. I have an Apple TV, and Apple has made it really easy with its TV app interface to see what sports are on. NBC’s apps have made it extremely difficult to get into those apps to watch the sports.

Inevitably, I find myself having to quit the app, go back to the Apple TV interface and then jump back in. The NBC Sports app is the worst; I knew its bugs were pronounced before the Olympics, having had to use it to watch the Stanley Cup. ESPN and Disney have a much better product, but then Disney does not have the monopoly on coverage of the Olympics.

NBC has done a disservice to its viewers and the athletes with its schizophrenic approach that takes the worst of a cable company and layers it over what is supposed to be the best of America. When one is actually able to watch a sport, NBC would rather one hear its commentators and see its prepared biography specials than actually watch the sport. In an era of mass employment needs, NBC would be OK axing all parties responsible. They’d surely be able to get jobs elsewhere to screw up something other than the Olympics.

As for the Olympics themselves, I am not sure why everyone feels the need to have an opinion on Simone Biles, but everyone does. My first reaction was that it was terrible for her to abandon her team before the finals. But, upon a review of the data, I had to change my mind.

Based on her scores headed into the finals, had Biles stuck around, she probably would have cost the Americans their silver medal and most likely would have dragged them into no-medal territory. Being a leader requires knowing when to step aside for others. She appears to grasp that.

Unfortunately, in the era of hot takes and with the anti-American pollution of the Team USA women’s soccer team, a lot of people immediately denounced Biles as something less than an American. Unlike the women’s soccer team, she has never taken a position that might cast shame or blame on the United States.

The politicization of American sports has been a real disappointment. That it has spilled over into the Olympics makes it even worse. That people feel compelled to offer up opinions about it all on social media, often without data or a full picture, just exacerbates all the problems.

On top of it all, the media is desperate to turn our athletes into real-life heroes with hagiographic profiles amplified by NBC’s programming decisions. Biles is a phenomenal athlete. Had this happened a decade ago, it probably would have gone without much commentary. Now, everyone feels compelled to weigh in.

Maybe, instead of weighing in on Biles, we should wonder why three athletes have dropped out due to mental health and wonder, after Larry Nasser, what Team USA and the NBC coverage have done.

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