Instant demands have cost at Beijing Games


BEIJING -- As that world-famous flake and occasional tennis player Goran Ivanisevic once said, after an especially difficult loss at the U.S. Open, I see the plane flying over and I can see my seat on it.

Parting Beijing will not be sweet sorrow.

Nothing wrong with the city, or the wonderful Olympics it organized. Or its hospitality or efficiency or genuine way of somehow being friendly through a language barrier as thick as a Great Wall.

Covering an Olympics is always an experience, even if the whole thing resembles a Saturday night at Coney Island. (One guess. Atlanta Games, 1996.)


Beijing was the first true Olympics of instant gratification.

Reporters who once came looking for stories came this time looking for places to sit down and type. Immediately. What wasn’t news became news because we now could instantly type it and hit a button that sent it to the world via the Internet.

In Chippewa Falls, Wis., Herbie hits a button and yells out, “Hey, ma, Dwight Howard just got the opening tip over Pau Gasol.” Herbie is dazzled that he got the word so fast, and the typist is equally dazzled at the speed he got it there. Neither seems to wonder whether what had arrived was worth the effort on either end.

I sat alongside a bright young reporter for the Washington Post, while the Post’s local interest, tennis star James Blake, played a semifinal match. The reporter typed after each game and hit the send button. Blake served. He won. The other guy served. He won. Tennis is like that.

Noting that it was the middle of the night back in D.C., I asked the reporter why he was doing that, since his audience, at best, could only be 35 insomniacs and 11 tennis freaks. He shrugged and said he had no idea, he just did what he was told.

It is the way of the future, we are told, as if the word “future” always connotes “better.”

This practice has to be scary for Dick Ebersol and NBC. The Olympic god that we worship nightly for two weeks, every two years -- that has set the pace and raised the bar and confirmed the tone of the Olympics as one of warmth and joy and celebration of athletic excellence and good sportsmanship -- may soon be riding the same horse and buggy as this columnist.


NBC’s delivery may be too slow. We may not know why Herbie wants, or needs, to know instantly that Gasol didn’t get the opening tip, but we have decided he does.

And that makes NBC’s approach to the Olympic Games in question. It takes time to package telecasts, to make those personal stories that NBC does so well, both personal and accurate. It has more programming now than ever, spread over more network-partnered channels than ever, and it still has to tape-delay a great deal.

The TV ratings were through the roof this time, on the able back of Michael Phelps. But in the future, will even NBC suffer a death from slow delivery? Will the Internet, having gobbled up the newspaper business, do the same to NBC’s Olympics?

Not to worry. At least, not for the next four years.

NBC has the Olympic rights for the next two go-arounds, in Vancouver in 18 months and in London in 2012. And time differences make packaging a European Olympics perfect for Ebersol, who has done this beautifully before.

Most likely, London will be business as usual, unless Ebersol starts to really get peeved about paying all those billions for an exclusivity that is now violated every day by every credentialed typist at the Olympics.

Also, in some ways, by every still-living-at-home-with-mom-and-blogging-in-his-pajamas-from-his-ba sement website owner, who can obtain instant data from the Olympic typists and take that wherever he wishes.

Soon, the totality of that makes more noise than Bob Costas’ voice.

Nevertheless, London and NBC should go nicely together.

In Sunday night’s closing ceremony, Mayor Boris Johnson of London took the Olympic flag during the hand-over part of the ceremony and, standing amid serious-looking officials from the International Olympic Committee and the China Committee, waved it vigorously with a big grin.

Around him, coats were buttoned and red power ties were straight. Johnson’s white hair flapped around, his suit coat was open and looked as if it wouldn’t have buttoned, anyway, around his sizable belly. He laughed and waved and walked on the Olympic red carpet like a guy who thought this was a kick, not a ceremony.

It was great. Ebersol can make that work for his viewers. The fun will be back in London.

So will we typists, getting it to you even faster, so you will know the exact moment Phelps gets on the bus to go to his first morning heat.

But enough about drama and excitement. Time to fasten the seat belt.


Bill Dwyre can be reached at To read previous columns by Dwyre, go to