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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Newspapers are the ultimate tape-delayed broadcast


I found myself bristling Saturday night at the #nbcfail whiners and jokesters who were complaining about NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, in particular NBC’s tape delay of certain events until prime time. “Everyone” already knew that Ryan Lochte had beaten Michael Phelps earlier in the day Saturday.
The jokes started coming in about wondering whether Jesse Owens would win and not being able to wait to see how Mary Lou Retton performs.
I tweeted a couple of counter-jokes about sitting in my basement all morning surfing the Internet and being the first to watch the Man of Steel movie trailer, viewing every episode of Annoying Orange and watching the Olympics.
I also tweeted that some of us were actually outside on a beautiful Saturday actually doing stuff and weren’t inside watching the Olympics. Some of us — gasp — actually didn’t know until Saturday night that Lochte had beaten Phelps.
Oh well, that was fun. Move on.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Then you started hearing from the navel gazers who predictably began to point out that here it was, the end of television as we know it, NBC holding onto those last dying breaths of the “old media” while the “new media” was taking over. Some pined for the day that Google would bid for the rights to broadcast the Olympics.
The problem with navel gazers is that they’re usually sitting in a darkened room by themselves and that they’re sitting in a darkened room by themselves for a reason. They usually have very little experience in the real world and they have very little grasp of how the real world actually functions.
One thing the navel gazers failed to grasp is that prime time is called prime time for a reason — it’s the best time for television viewership. While all the twitterheads and geeks were checking their Yahoo news feed and smartphones for updates, most of the rest of the United States was out doing stuff, with nary a concern about the Olympics. Then, at the end of the day, after the lawn was mowed or the garden tended, the lake was fished or the museum visited, everyone crawled back into their air-conditioned houses for some unwind time in front of the television.
The other thing the navel gazers missed was the fact that NBC is not only delivering Olympics coverage to viewers, it’s actually in the business of delivering viewers to its advertisers. That’s how it makes money. And, as it turns out, they’re doing a pretty darn good job of it, as ratings for this weekend’s Olympics coverage — tape-delayed and all — went through the roof, delivering record audiences to the advertisers. Seems like it wasn’t such a fail after all.
OK, Scott, what’s going on here? You’re getting way too worked up over this. What’s really behind all this vim and vinegar?
Well, I guess if I had to really think about it, I would say that this whole dustup reminds me of another condescending anti-old media argument that’s near and dear to my heart: newspapers. Yes, everything comes back to newspapers in my world.
The underlying current in the #nbcfail feed was this unspoken, “Ha ha, I heard about it first. Aren’t I smarter?”
I’ve written before that I’m glad I don’t surf the Internet for up-to-the-minute breaking news alerts. I much prefer to wait until the next day for my newspaper to come and inform me — in a measured, reasonable and accurate way — of the day’s top stories.
After all, newspapers are the ultimate tape-delayed broadcast.
And as a former weekly newspaper editor and owner, I know first-hand how a seemingly important end-of-the-world news story simply loses its significance after just a day or two.
Besides, are we really smarter for knowing things first?
Just ask CNN and Fox News watchers whether they are smarter for learning first that the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down the Affordable Care Act.
No, there’s something to be said for digesting news and information slowly and deliberately.
And there’s something to be said for sitting in front of your television in prime time with millions of other Americans and cheering on the Olympic athletes, even knowing that the event may have happened earlier that day.
Obviously that’s the case. Otherwise, NBC wouldn’t be having record ratings.
Now, about Ryan Seacrest as an Olympics commentator, that’s another column for another day.

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