You can't swing a dead cat in this town without somebody grinding on NBC's Olympic coverage. It's the skiing, or lack of it, that's felt like a boot in the shin (pun intended) for Winter Nation, but the more people think and talk and mope and think and talk some more .... the more they realize that the whole thing is just a grand old suckfest. It's gotten bad enough that the Twitterverse spread the head of programming's cell phone around yesterday. And it has almost become a noble challenge to find the live streams of the ski events online so that you can actually see more than the top three and the crashes. On tape delay.
But clearly NBC has a method to their madness. You don't just show up at Little Bighorn with a couple friends hoping to run into General Custer. You plan it.
The Olympic rationale is well known. It's about perceived viewers. Perceived female viewers. The prime time programming is what NBC thinks their prime target demographic wants, and you can see the living proof in the ads that NBC has cobbled together between emotional montages and figure skating costume tips. Not only does it assume that women are simply not interested in certain sports, it's a conscious embrace of "entertainment" programming over "sports" programming -- akin to running Super Bowl pre-game features instead of the game itself. And, sadly, it's something that Olympic coverage has been trending toward for a long, long while.
When the news landed this morning that American Idol thumped the Olympics in the ratings battle this week, you know that the suits over at NBC were not pleased. Initial ratings have been "better than expected" (thanks PR department!), but clearly they are playing to a certain crowd, and that crowd is choosing to go elsewhere.
Essentially, they've tried to repackage sports as tidy low-calorie morsels of entertainment, and now they're going to miss dinner. They're also going to miss two weeks of advertising make-goods that could cost the network as much as $250 million.
It's easy to bash NBC from far, far away and say that they're the only brand that's ever played to their weakness and lost. But look around, and you'll see that it's far too common both inside and outside of the outdoor world. It starts with the best of intentions -- there are grand things that happen in those conversations about growing a brand to be the best that it can be.
But chasing the bright and shiny promise of the new-new-thing is an extreme temptation for any brand. And a dangerous one.