The Lane Train

News and Pop Culture for the Blog Generation

NBC Thanks Their Lucky Peacock-Feathered Stars for Phelps and Johnston

Posted by thelanetrain on August 13, 2008

It’s certainly been a whirlwind couple of days for Team USA.  Michael Phelps became the winningest olympian ever.  A Hamm-less men’s gymnastics team eked out a bronze medal.  And the women’s gymnastics team, feautring the ever-dominant Shawn Johnston, nabbed a silver medal (they got beaten by a bunch of eighth grade girls).  But the biggest winner in this olympics so far?  Team NBC, who drew 30 million viewers last night, and has averaged more viewers so far than the Athens Olympic Games.  It also drew five times as many viewers as its closest competitor, ABC.

After The Jump: The secrets of NBC’s success.

We know that NBC’s programming has been kinda crappy lately.  Sure, it has a few hit shows, but on the whole, it doesn’t measure up to CBS or ABC, or sometimes even Fox.  However, NBC was very luck to have gotten that exclusive broadcasting rights contract with the Olympics years ago, and it has certainly paid off this year in Beijing, where NBC is drawing huge numbers of viewers!  So how did this happen?  Here are three ways that NBC was able to rack up its audience:

1.  Superstar Athletes.  NBC wouldn’t have had nearly as many viewers as it does without the help of the athletes themselves.  Odds are that many would care much less about the games if big name competitors like Michael Phelps, Misty May-Traenor, Kobe Bryant, Nastia Liukin, Dara Torres, and Shawn Johnston were absent.  Not only are they competing, but they are winning.  Look at how many medals Phelps has won!  Everyone wants to be able to say to their children how they saw the most decorated Olympian achieve his goal in their lifetime, as if it was an astonishing and groundbreaking achievement (which it is).  Plus, the viewing audience will get a chance to see if these superstar athletes are winning their events naturally or through some way of cheating (either with doping or with forging documents, China’s Women’s Gymanstics Team)

2.  Preventing The Failure of Sydney.  The Sydney Games in 2000 were the lowest rated games in history.  Why?  A 14 hour time difference between New York and Sydney allowed spectators on the Eastern Seaboard to get results of events before they were televised through the internet.  Many of the North American broadcasters failed to compensate for the difference, and organizers, who held the events at night, alienated European and American (North and South) audiences.  To combat this, NBC paid the IOC about $900 million to televise the games AND move major events to the morning to let its primetime viewers watch them live without finding out online.  As a result, viewership has been up since the last two summer games and online spoilers are becoming harder to find (except for obscure events, like air pistol).  The only problem is despite appeasing Eastern and Central viewers, West Coast and Mountain viewers are not able to see the games live (due to 14 and 15 hour time differences), and must either somehow obtain an East Coast feed, or simply do with watching taped rebroadcasts.  But this hasn’t seemed to hurt NBC just yet.

3.  The People’s Republic of China. Australia has cute marsupials and Crocodile Dundee.  Greece was the birthplace of the Olympics and people speak a funny language with weird letters.  But somehow, Americans can’t seem to get enough of The People’s Republic of China.  Aside from housing about 20% of the world’s population and one of the last bastions of communism, the commentators have been saying over and over again how revolutionary a step it is for China to be hosting the games.  And it truly is.  Beijing is looking more and more like a model city of the future with its awe-inspiring architecture and cityscape.  The athletes are dominant (well…maybe not the Men’s basketball team) and competitive.  The fact that a nation that once had closed doors and a strict communist rule has now opened up for a worldwide competition of sport is something to marvel at.  Is this another step towards the abolition of communism and adaptation of full blown capitalism?  Maybe.  Our obsession with China could also coincide with our love affair of ancient societies and history.  But mostly, it could be the fact that for once, Americans are looking past China’s image as a nation of sweatshop workers, skyscrapers, and strict governmental policies and realizing it has a rich cultural history and vibrant populace with incredible athletics to boot.  Go figure.  Could this lead towards democracy?  Perhaps…

And when it’s all said and done, NBC will respectfully go back to being America’s #3 major network, but in the meantime, let the peacock revel in all its golden glory, and just sit back and watch while some dudes with zero body fat move faster than you could ever imagine possible.

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