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A Requiem for Rio: Viewers Lose

There is a massive, widening gap and clear disconnect between how news, media and content in general is viewed and shared in 2016 and how the television media treats, arguably, the largest global sporting event in existence.

I love the Olympics

I’m not sure if loving the olympics puts me in the majority or minority these days, but something about the entire world coming together to compete country vs. country in every sport imaginable is about as good as it gets for a sports fan like myself. This year in particular, as I watched the tape-delayed coverage of a network pretending their viewers didn’t already know who won, it cemented something for me. There is a massive, widening gap and clear disconnect between how news, media and content in general is viewed and shared in 2016 and how the television media treats, arguably, the largest global sporting event in existence.

Look, I’m not completely naive. I realize money drives the decisions behind… everything. NBC paid a staggering $1.23 billion for the broadcast rights to the Rio games alone. I realize that’s an investment in a product that you can package up and sell advertising inventory in and around based on the millions upon millions of people that will tune in. You’re selling access to a huge audience. In the end, both national and local broadcasters will make a lot of money selling that ad time. That’s how it works.
What I do have a problem with is the decisions made purely, 100% for the financial benefit of the network at the significant expense of millions of viewers. I know that I will not be the only one to look back on these games with disdain as having been ruined by knowing the end before the start. This didn’t have to be a zero-sum game, with viewers having no free options to watch the games live. There could have been more strategic, accessible programming that would allow users to watch live, while not sacrificing the ad revenue.

“But Matt, you could stream the events. Stop whining.”

Yes, it’s true that streaming options were available to watch several events live. However, that content was available if and only if you are a cable subscriber (Comast, etc). How many people do you know that continue to happily subscribe and pay $100+/mo to Comcast? How many people did you hear asking around the office for someone’s Xfinity log-in credentials to watch the games because they don’t have a cable subscription?

Fact is, subscribing to basic cable is something less and less people are doing. We’re watching Netflix, we’re streaming through HBO apps, we’re “cutting the cord”. To require viewers to pay to watch live olympics via your cable subscription demonstrates an even further complete lack of understanding of their own media landscape.

This is where I get a bit cheesy. The games should be accessible to everyone, everywhere as they happen, when they happen. That’s the spirit of the Olympics. People just like you and I, from around the world, coming together,striving for greatness. That’s not a story that should be bought, cherry-picked and sold in packages only to those that can pay for it. The Olympics deserve better than to be commoditized. They mean more to the world than that.

The world is changing

The way we communicate is dramatically changing and the games themselves are no exception. We’re in the midst of corruption scandals surrounding how cities are awarded both the Olympics and the World Cup. We’re seeing exploitation and death of migrant workers to construct soccer stadiums in the goddamn desert, which is completely unacceptable in 2016. This is not ancient Rome. We are seeing cities and nations going bankrupt to serve as host. I am not at all surprised that there is general discontent with the corrupt, archaic and flat out dangerous handling of our global sporting events. What now makes it worse is the end product, the result of all the turmoil, is now tarnished at the expense of many to benefit the few.
This is not a difficult problem to solve. Make the games accessible and affordable to both a traditional television and digital streaming audience. Broadcast live when and where it’s a reasonable expectation. Recognize and account for the real-time media landscape in which you exist. Make 2020 the year you get this right, rather than continue to make this worse.

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