The most unlikely scenario to date at the Sochi Olympics played out like this:
• NBC is accused of downplaying the repressive Russian regime’s anti-gay stance.
• NBC adamantly denies those accusations.
• At the Opening Ceremony, the IOC president makes a statement clearly targeting the Russians’ anti-gay policies.
• NBC edits that statement out.
NBC’s ham-fisted edit of the Opening Ceremony made the worst things said about the network’s Sochi coverage seem plausible. It hacked out a surprisingly strong pro-tolerance statement by IOC president Thomas Bach.
"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," Bach said.
What makes this all the more remarkable is that NBC has taken a huge number of shots — including from yours truly — for its reluctance to report on the issue. NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus argued that Sochi, "like every Olympic site, comes with political and social issues." And, he added, NBC "will address it if it becomes an issue."
The IOC president made it an issue on Friday, and NBC’s response fed into the belief that it is avoiding the issue to keep the Russians happy.
To be clear, I’m not pushing that conspiracy theory. It’s far more likely that this was simply a bone-headed mistake. Which happens to all of us.
But NBC did not do itself any favors in its response. A network spokesperson told The Wrap, "The IOC president’s comments were edited for time, as were other speeches, but his message got across very clearly to viewers."
It’s true that all the speeches were edited. It’s not true that Bach’s message "got across very clearly." The parts of the speech that NBC did air — about "building bridges to bring people together" and "embracing human diversity in great unity" — were far less clear than the part NBC edited out.
No one knows better than NBC that it will be criticized for how it covers the Olympics. There’s been backlash for editing out the "pre-Opening Ceremony" performance by the Russian Police Choir. And we live in an age where social media allows anyone with a Twitter account to post criticism — even though a lot of that criticism is pretty stupid.
I’ve written this before — repeatedly — but NBC spent more than a billion dollars to buy the rights to and produce the Sochi Games for American TV. If it wants to maximize its audience by tape-delaying the Opening Ceremony rather than air it live on Friday morning, so be it. If you don’t like it, go outbid NBC for the rights to the Games and produce them yourself.
And, by the way, tape-delaying the Opening Ceremony didn’t hurt the ratings. An average of 31.7 million viewers tuned in, just 3 percent fewer than the live Opening Ceremony from Vancouver, which averaged 32.7 million viewers.
America’s most-watched Winter Opening Ceremony ever remains Salt Lake 2002, with 45.6 million viewers.
The biggest surprise from Friday’s numbers is that Utah was supplanted as the top market for the Winter Olympics. On Friday, Minneapolis posted a 26 rating and a 45 share; the Salt Lake market (which includes all of Utah and parts of Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada) was in second place with a 24.4 rating and 42 share.
But Utah viewing has rebounded. Through Sunday, the Salt Lake market is back on top, 6 percent ahead of second-place Minneapolis.
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