My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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I want my Olympics 2.0-style

Last night, I went to bed watching girls’ gymnastics. I found myself very irritated. There were 24 girls in the finals, but NBC focused only on those that they thought would medal. The result is that there was tremendous downtime that the announcers filled with speculation, gossip, and historical reminiscing. I was quite irritated because what I wanted was to see more gymnastics. Anyone who is at the Olympics has to be fascinating to watch – why only focus on those who are likely to medal?

Come to think of it, everything about how NBC has covered the Olympics has been abysmal. Last weekend, I was with a hardcore copyright conservative who kept arguing that people watching the opening ceremonies online were cheating NBC out of money. I countered that what these people were doing was indicating what the market wanted. Many were happy to watch the Chinese CCTV version live instead of waiting until what NBC declared to be “primetime.” Personally, I was quite annoyed with NBC starting around 5.30AM when we woke up to watch the opening ceremonies only to learn that they weren’t covering it live. So, logically, we went to NBC’s homepage to see if they were streaming it live. No. That’s where I think that NBC fucked up royally. I don’t know why they decided that the Today Show was more important than the opening ceremony, but they did. Still, there was no reason to not stream it live on their website. I would’ve happily sat through dozens of commercials to see it live. Instead, I TiVoed it and watched it sans commercials. Big win on NBC’s part, right?

What NBC has tried to do is configure its viewers. They’ve told everyone how they should watch the Olympics and are peeved when people have a different idea of how they want to watch this symbol of nationalism. Normally, the people have no choice. Yet, because of the Internet, there’s a lot of push for alternatives. Of course, personally, I’m just angry and annoyed. I can think of so many ways that NBC could’ve handled this better. What I want is Olympics 2.0.

I want an Olympics where the “best” is broadcast on TV, like now. But I also want an interactive version. Take gymnastics. I want to know on each apparatus who is up live. And I want to be able to switch between different cameras and choose my own view through the stadium so that I can watch whichever competitor I want. I want to be able to watch live, all day, on ALL sports (even judo and the other weird ones where Americans are not so present). I want interactive live and I want to be able to pull down and follow any individual Olympian or team through their events at a later point. I want the Olympics to be treated as a bunch of spliceable objects that I can remix live for my own viewing pleasure. And I want to be able to see it ALL. Is that that hard to ask for? Hell, I’d be willing to pay for such interactive watching options. And I’d certainly be willing to watch ads to see things LIVE. But boy does it annoy me to watch a “live” NBC broadcast that is already well reported on in the NYTimes.

So can I please have Olympics 2.0? And dear International Olympic Committee, please don’t sell exclusive rights to the next Olympics to an organization who is doing more to curtail and configure access than to engage the market the way that they want to be engaged. And NBC, would you stop being so antiquated and leverage new media for what it’s good for?

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34 comments to I want my Olympics 2.0-style

  • It isn’t like it is impossible. I was in the UK during Wimbledon and the BBC had six separate courts selectable through their interactive service. The only trouble with the Olympics is that there is so much going on that the choice may end up being which sport to watch, not between different disciplines in the gymnastics.

  • I mostly agree with you; there’s a lot more creative stuff that NBC could be doing with Olympics coverage. But have you tried out their official video site? It’s not great; it requires Silverlight,, navigation is awkward, and the search is broken. But there is a lot of video content, including live video, and the quality is quite good. It’s a lot better than any major online sports event coverage I’ve seen before.

  • Hi. Olympics 1.5 is definitely at nbcolympics.com/video . I’m biased since I work on Silverlight, but I’d say it doesn’t really suck at all. Most things are live (

  • BTW your blog comment system snarfs anything after a less-than symbol. Might want to check that out.

  • Kevin Cantu

    I want an Olympics where they don’t try to choke me to death on nationalism, sensationalism, and VISA advertisements.

    And how about one where they actually show the scores after a performance?! It is like NBC is assembling the feed using a bunch of chimps with ADD.

    Nelson, I’ll have to check that out.

  • Kevin Cantu

    Nevermind that, Nelson. I am browsing on Linux.

    Video is currently supported on the following browsers:

    * Internet Explorer 6, 7 for Windows
    (Vista, XP SP2 or greater and 2003)
    * Firefox 1.5, 2, 3 for Windows
    (Vista, XP SP2 or greater and 2003)
    * Firefox 1.5, 2, 3 for Mac
    (OS 10.4.8 or greater, Intel only)
    * Safari 2 & 3 for Mac
    (OS 10.4.8 or greater, Intel only)

    There is NO good reason they should limit the platforms. NBC’s own website and Hulu both work flawlessly on Linux.

    Grrrrrr!

  • Maria

    I watched *women’s* gymnastics (I really chafe at it being called “girls” even if many of them are pixies, sorry) online through Eurosport’s coverage in Denmark — many other TV stations broadcast online, and someone I know watched the entire competition via a Saudi channel which showed plenty more routines and no commercials. Sure, you had different languages on many of these channels, but it was still an option (and very Olympics 2.0 for me).

  • Unfortunately, Jeff Zucker (president & CEO of NBC U) is out there saying things like “There’s no question we did the right thing in holding the Opening Ceremony to air in prime time on NBC that night.” Bummer. I’m 100% on board with your concept, danah…it would be awesome.

    (Quote from: http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlny/beijing_olympics/iceberg_ahead_jeff_zucker_on_why_nbcs_olympic_coverage_is_genius_91716.asp)

  • strifer

    How about NBC buying out the swimming events so that Heats are swum at night and finals are swum in the morning so that viewers in the USA get to see Phelps swim during THEIR primetime. Don’t worry about the rest of the world.

  • It feels like we have this discussion every two years, particularly when the games are held in inconvenient time zones. But I wonder, do we really want to be up in the middle of the night watching table tennis on television just because it’s the Olympics? Or do we really expect NBC to make decisions that will cause them to lose money on their enormous investment in gaining the rights to broadcast the games in the US? It sounds like their online strategy is a great start of obscure sports fiends, but of course they are going to show super popular sports in popular timeslots so that a lot of people will watch. I don’t like it, especially their decision to tape-delay on the west coast, but I accept that a for-profit company is making calculated for-profit decisions.

  • That’s why I love the BBC. They’re showing as much as possible live (taking over the main channels all day), with interactive TV showing as much as possible and then everything online as well. I can choose which sport feed I want to watch or I can watch the studio-led main feed.

    The interactive one-sport feed is more complicated, as it requires the host TV nation to set it up like that. The BBC are doing what they are based on the fact they are getting feeds from each venue, but they can only show what is being fed to them. But given their experiments with Wimbledon, I’m looking forward to what they are going to being for 2012 where hopefully they’ll be running the TV coverage!

  • Mu

    Combining what Rachel and josh have said I do feel slightly sorry for the BBC. They’re doing such an excellent job when it comes to coverage that by the time they’ve spent most of the day covering the events live they have
    to spend much of the evening doing highlights shows. Dam time difference! Though I have just spent much of the morning lying in bed watching Adlington smash the swimming world record, amongst other things, on the web, so who am I to complain?

  • Jo

    My feelings exactly! Come on big broadcasters – get with the program! Might summarize your post and “re-tweet” it on a British social media site.

    Thanks for saying what we have all been thinking.

    Hey, I hope the dissertation is going well.

  • I was pretty sure they weren’t going to get this right so I already expressed my frustrations even before they started:
    http://crookedtimber.org/2008/08/08/why-olympics-coverage-in-the-us-sucks/

    100+ comments later, it seems the sentiment is widespread. Had I waited, my post would have only gotten more nuanced regarding the areas of frustration, such as the ones you express here.

  • Marcela

    Yah, this was my main peeve with gymnastics as well–it was only about the gold-silver not even letting us see much of the battle for the bronze which was more up in the air. Though I have to say this time it seemed more like they were trying to stuff too much into one broadcast with the other sports, always cutting away to swimming. Less filler of athletes’ hometown/sob story sequences than usual.

  • Kudzu

    What you are asking for is already here. Go to nbcolympics.com. I have watched every Judo match since Judo started, several times live. There are no talking heads to annoy you, and the video quality is great.

  • Markoff has an excellent article exploring NBC requiring Microsoft’s Silverlight to watch online video. What better way to launch a new, proprietary competitor to Flash than via your long-standing partnership with NBC? It’s a bit irritating, and it does leave the 2% of the US running Linux or PowerPC MacOS out in the cold. But the actual video experience is very good, way better quality than the usual FLVs you see. And the navigation app connected to the video playback is surprisingly useful.

    What’s really missing from NBC’s site is simpler, better search and navigation. The “search video” stuff is particularly bad: awkward drop-downs, can’t combine multiple search criteria, can’t do much with the search results page.

  • joe

    I’ve heard the opposite argument from people who hate the olympics… they think there’s too much coverage and/or too much time spent on specific events. Personally, what gets me is why I can’t call up specific races/events using NBC’s interface… like the Jamaica guy who broke the 100m dash record in a showy fashion. Well, youtube.

  • I’m ok with most of the Olympic coverage, and I really like the way that NBC has put so much on other of their channels. For instance, I’ve watched all the US Women’s basketball games in their entirety (on USA network), and today expect to watch China & Australia women’s basketball. My main beef with them is that there’s no easy way to tell what’s on when, mostly because there’s so darn much of it.

    It’s clearly Olympics 1.5, and it’s got flaws (the marathon announcers were not attempting to enlighten new marathon watchers, and i’m writing this post on a Mac that doesn’t work with Silverlight), but it’s a step in the right direction. Hopefully thoughtful comments like these will enable NBC to improve next time.

  • hey danah,
    totally agree. i actually told @newmediajim early the morning of the live opening ceremony, and while he agreed (he’s one of the camera guys for NBC sent over there to shoot the opening) he also knew there was no getting around NBC this year, at least officially. So I sent out the links I was using to watch, from around 3am PST to 7am, using a feed from Argentina, one from Amsterdam, and one from Saudia Arabia. Didn’t understand the commentary but who cares. Anyway.. Jim tweeted back that i had the link so his followers could come to me to get it, but privately told me he couldn’t retweet the link because he’d get in big trouble. Several hundred people watched the links, and we just watched it live.

    but i’d say that if folks at NBC know this is artificial and unnecessary, the whole jig is up and it’s just a matter of time before the need to just figure out the model and get the video on line.

    as for silverlight, i’m sick of installing more crap.. so i just didn’t do it. why NBC doesn’t offer olympics on Hulu so we can just watch it is beyond me.

  • hey danah,
    totally agree. i actually told @newmediajim early the morning of the live opening ceremony, and while he agreed (he’s one of the camera guys for NBC sent over there to shoot the opening) he also knew there was no getting around NBC this year, at least officially. So I sent out the links I was using to watch, from around 3am PST to 7am, using a feed from Argentina, one from Amsterdam, and one from Saudia Arabia. Didn’t understand the commentary but who cares. Anyway.. Jim tweeted back that i had the link so his followers could come to me to get it, but privately told me he couldn’t retweet the link because he’d get in big trouble. Several hundred people watched the links, and we just watched it live.

    but i’d say that if folks at NBC know this is artificial and unnecessary, the whole jig is up and it’s just a matter of time before the need to just figure out the model and get the video on line.

    as for silverlight, i’m sick of installing more crap.. so i just didn’t do it. why NBC doesn’t offer olympics on Hulu so we can just watch it is beyond me.

  • hey danah,
    totally agree. i actually told @newmediajim early the morning of the live opening ceremony, and while he agreed (he’s one of the camera guys for NBC sent over there to shoot the opening) he also knew there was no getting around NBC this year, at least officially. So I sent out the links I was using to watch, from around 3am PST to 7am, using a feed from Argentina, one from Amsterdam, and one from Saudia Arabia. Didn’t understand the commentary but who cares. Anyway.. Jim tweeted back that i had the link so his followers could come to me to get it, but privately told me he couldn’t retweet the link because he’d get in big trouble. Several hundred people watched the links, and we just watched it live.

    but i’d say that if folks at NBC know this is artificial and unnecessary, the whole jig is up and it’s just a matter of time before the need to just figure out the model and get the video on line.

    as for silverlight, i’m sick of installing more crap.. so i just didn’t do it. why NBC doesn’t offer olympics on Hulu so we can just watch it is beyond me.

  • Since some of you clearly have the NBC Olympics site down better than I do, how do I watch all of the contestants for gymnastics? After reading your comments, I went back to try to find this and I can only find the “top” and “best of” routines (and of course the American ones). Perhaps I am just utterly incapable of navigating NBC’s site because I don’t see how it has what I’m asking for.

  • I’d rather watch on television, and I don’t see why, with all the channels available on cable, NBC can’t find a way to present some sports other than swimming and gymnastics. What I’ve seen on NBC has been 90% those two, until now tonight they’re showing some track and field. And most of the NBC commentators and panels are worse than listening to paint dry.

    Wikipedia says that “The Summer Olympics includes 28 sports with 38 disciplines”. Out there somewhere are archery, judo, equestrian stuff (saw some of that, which I enjoy, on some other channel and never found it again), boxing, wrestling, modern pentathlon, fencing, tennis, and a bunch more. Why should we need to search out foreign-language feeds online while television channels are giving us reruns of I Love Lucy and bad movies? Couldn’t NBC franchise out some of these sports?

  • Oh, I forgot to say, I’m a Mac person and resistant to the Microsoft download required to view the other sports online at NBC. Supposedly free, but playing into yet another one of Microsoft’s dominance schemes.

  • kudzu

    Danah:

    Go to nbcolympics.com. On the left-side list labeled “ALL SPORTS”, click on Gymnastics. Scroll down until you see “Gymnastics Video”. Click the link labelled “See more gymnastics video”. From that page, you can search the videos (scroll down to the search) or browse (“See more videos” at the bottom of the page).

    I agree that the site nav is wonky, but if you can find what you’re looking for, you’re in. Good luck.

  • Chris

    NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, while more video than ever before is still the worst coverage. NBC is airing on 6 different channels (if you get cable; NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, USA, Oxygen, Telemundo) but none of it appears to be live to the West Coast anyway. Everything is time delayed a minimum three hours if not to the next day. Then, as you say, all the attention is focused on one or two athletes who are usually American and we do not get to see any other competitors.

    We’ve been watching CBC Canada here in Seattle for our Olympics coverage. They’re broadcasting Live (really live!) and they profile more than just American and Canadian athletes. AND there’s less commercials than American television.

    NBC you failed us again, with six networks there’s no reason to not broadcast live. With the web, there’s no reason to not broadcast live. Just sad.

  • dumbledad

    I agree with all those who’ve shouted out the BBC coverage. 2012 should be fantastic, though I wonder what they’ll do about streaming video to non-UK IP addresses.
    BTW, danah, like the athletes, gymnasts, and BBC comentators you call it “girls’ gymnastics” not “womens gymnastics”. Why is that? (I ask because it is one thing about the BBC commentary that’s pissing my wife off.)

  • Jo

    Got off the blogpost challenging London SocialMediaMafia to influence the #So.Me policies for 2012?

    Raz them a bit too?
    http://socialmediamafia.com

  • John Smith

    I can’t stand the idea of the Olympics nowadays. Its a huge marketing fiasco. Why the !@#! do you support ANY media outlet being able to “buy the coverage”. What a crock of !@#!#!@#!.

    i’m also disgusted with people getting excited that their country is doing better than another. Why do these guys represent countries? They are athletes not soldiers.

    Shouldn’t it be covered by more than one bloody media outlet?

  • Can you watch the live content from the BBC website. Their coverage has been brilliant. It may be just for folks with UK IP addresses though I wonder

  • NBC may have been more concerned with the $1B in TV revenue than the estimated $5.75 million they brought in from the web site. Still they could probably have had both had they been less stingy with the online version. It’s too bad, since the Olympics with its 18 ring circus is the ideal environment for user-driven access.

  • Steve

    danah,

    I think you are probably completely correct about what would be an improved Olympic experience. I just have a really hard time getting excited about sports.

    My idea of really abysmal programming is when TNT lets the NBA finals preempt Law and Order reruns.

    -Steve