Sochi Olympics: How NBC muffed Bach, Daft Punk (and why it matters)
When it comes to the Olympics, one of the great things about this age of the live stream is that everything is viewable.
Unfortunately for NBC, one of the bad things about this age of the live stream is that everything is viewable,including that which was cut from a prime-time broadcast.
Two notable omissions were clear to viewers of the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony on Friday. The first was the more amusing of the two — the scene of members of the Russian Internal Affairs Departmental choir singing along to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” Uniformed, Slavic-inflected odes to staying up all night with the sun, combined with some of the non-singing comrades’ not-quite-comfortable head-bopping, made for one of the more hilarious and surreal tableaux in opening-ceremony history. There was something amusingly robotic about them, though not the by-design, Daft Punk-kind of robots.
Viewers of the live stream caught the scene when it happened, and many watched it later in the day online on NBC Sports’ Olympics site and on local news broadcasts that aired the clip. But when the packaged-for-prime time ceremony aired at 8 p.m. on the East and West coasts the moment was nowhere to be found, leaving those who’d been following on Twitter earlier in the day wondering why the scene of those singers had vanished faster than a pair of French EDM pioneers’ faces.
More weightily, the NBC prime-time telecast seemed to lose an important piece of IOC chief Thomas Bach’s speech. Those watching the TV event saw a bit about diversity and not erecting walls, part of an apparent coded plea to leave the politics of Russia’s anti-LGBT law out of the Games.(A relevant quote “Olympic Games are a sports festival embracing human diversity in great unity.”) But viewers missed the meatier portion of the speech.
Namely, they didn’t hear this, as Deadspin recounts:
“The universal Olympic rules apply to each and every athlete, no matter where you come from or what your background is. You are living together in the Olympic Village. You will celebrate victory with dignity and accept defeat with dignity. You are bringing the Olympic values to life. In this way, the Olympic Games, wherever they take place, set an example for a peaceful society. Olympic sport unites people.
“This is the Olympic message the athletes spread to the host country and to the whole world. Yes, it is possible to strive even for the greatest victory with respect for the dignity of your competitors. Yes, yes, it is possible — even as competitors — to live together under one roof in harmony, with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason. Yes, it is possible — even as competitors— to listen, to understand and to give an example for a peaceful society.”
An NBC spokesman explained the Daft Punk omission to my colleague Meredith Blake as a function of the fact that it was part of the pre-show, not the opening ceremony itself. The Bach compression? In response to my query, an NBC spokesman told me, “The IOC president’s comments were edited for time, as were other speeches, but his message got across very clearly to viewers.”
In some ways, the question of whether these moments should have been included in the taped TV piece is beside the point. The age of viral clips and social scrutiny make the source of any video irrelevant; whether it’s a piece of news aggregation or a video clip, we rarely take much note of the originating platform anymore.
But it also becomes relevant in this case for a different reason. If the Web is a place where raw, uncurated footage can live — much of NBC’s vaunted 1,539 hours of coverage will be there first or exclusively — then that leaves TV as the place where the best of it is plucked, groomed and presented. It’s the difference between the prize artifact found buried in an archive and the one hanging on a museum wall.
In fact, NBC execs before the game were keen to stress that the tape-delayed packages was key because it represented the best and most pertinent of what was available, and what many viewers were likely to see. In other words, it touted the importance of its curation.
But when omissions like this happen, it raises the question of whether a network is in a position to judge that. Granted, these decisions were made on the fly, and with no small amount of time constraints. And sure, the world still spins even if dosvedanya versions of Daft Punk stay off prime time. But if the network didn’t see fit to air these moments, what does it say about its editing and cherrypicking abilities for the rest of the Games? What will prime-time viewers be missing in figure skating, skiing and other events where diamonds in the rough exist all the time?
In this age of instant video, the best content increasingly finds a way of getting out. NBC’s savvy in determining what that best content is, though, looks this morning like some of the Russian soldiers’ dance moves — perplexing and a little shaky.
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