US & Canada

Rio Olympics: NBC slated for opening ceremony time lag

US flag held by laughing Michael Phelps, August 5 2016 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The US flagbearer, swimmer Michael Phelps, led hundreds of US athletes out in the opening ceremony's parade of nations

When is a live spectacle not a live spectacle?

Viewers in the US had to make do with not-so-live coverage of Rio's Olympic opening ceremony, and many were not happy about it.

The country's Olympic broadcaster, NBC, decided to show the ceremony at prime time in all time zones - meaning that audiences on the east coast saw it with an hour's delay, while those on the west coast had to wait for four hours after the ceremony had started before coverage began.

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'Requires deep understanding'

NBC responded to online criticism by saying that its team needed time to edit the ceremony and put it into context for viewers in the US.

In a statement, a spokesperson said: "It's not a sports competition.

"It's a cultural ceremony that requires deep levels of understanding, with numerous camera angles and our commentary laid over it.

"We think it's important to give it the proper context. And primetime is still when the most people are available to watch."

But for many, the non-live coverage sat uncomfortably with the fact that they could follow news and updates in real time online. Some took steps to stream the coverage from overseas broadcasters.

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Image copyright @Ruth_GS
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Image caption One of those to complain online was the editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal

The New York Times has hinted that perhaps the decision to delay the coverage was commercial, as more viewers joined for its "nakedly promotional introductory half hour".

The newspaper said: "NBC featured the American athletes it is counting on for story lines, like the swimmer Michael Phelps and the sprinter Allyson Felix; and an intrusive, embarrassing promo touted NBC's most prominent announcers.

"The nadir of the evening was a five-minute segment, positioned just before the start of the opening ceremony, that was ostensibly about Olympic golf but was really a plug for the NBCUniversal-owned Golf Channel."

In another indication of commercial concerns, the network's executives reportedly lobbied the International Olympic Committee unsuccessfully to have the athletes parade in English language alphabetical order rather than Portuguese.

According to a report by Bloomberg, the reason for this was that "United States" comes right towards the end giving stateside television audiences an incentive to watch to the end.

"Estados Unidos", on the other hand, comes midway through the parade and provides the audience with an easy point to tune out and turn in for the evening.

On Twitter, many people complained about the frequent ad breaks.

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Image copyright @TheRyanParker

But some people thought that despite the extra time for preparation, the NBC hosts got the tone wrong.

Writing in Vox, culture editor Todd Van Der Werff said the hosts contributed "inane chatter", including joking about how Djibouti (a country in east Africa) sounds like "yer booty".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The only time Djibouti has ever won a medal was in 1988 - this year it has athletes entered in judo, athletics and swimming

Mr Van Der Werff blamed an "entertainment-first approach" to the Olympics.

NBC has had the licence for broadcasting the Summer Olympics in the US since 1998, and the Winter Olympics since 2002.

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