If It’s Not Live, It’s Lifeless

by Casey Barrett

Frozen live feeds online, endless waits for taped races in primetime… Is this any way to enjoy the Games? 

It has nothing to do with the production. The shots are beautiful, the storytelling gripping, the talent as good as it gets. It’s not their problem. They’re doing everything they can. They’re fighting a losing battle. Because watching the Games on Day One of these London Olympics was a supremely maddening experience.

This is the absolute summit of drama for the sport of swimming. If you were there, or if you watched it live on TV in Europe, it surely was. If you tried to consume the action on the east coast of the United States, it was brutal.

First, the live streaming on NBCOlympics.com… I was psyched. The taped replayed heats of the morning prelims were just finishing up on the actual NBC TV network. A strange sensation – turning off your 42-inch HD television, which is airing swimming that happened eight hours earlier, and opening up your 15-inch laptop, so you can watch the actual live events about to take place on your small computer screen, the only place it’s available. And don’t expect the passionate A-team call from Dan and Rowdy on your little laptop, here you’ll only get the World Feed call, which further dials down the excitement.

Note: this was at 2:30pm on a Saturday afternoon. Not exactly a bad time to watch sports live on TV. The NFL seems to have had a bit of success airing its games around this time in the fall. And I seem to recall the British Open finishing up last weekend at about this time too. Same time zone as London. So, why the hell wasn’t this being aired live on NBC?

Look, I understand why this tape delay needs to happen during the weekdays. No one’s free to watch TV on a Tuesday afternoon at 3pm. The ratings would be torpedoed, their hands are tied. But NBC, could you please explain why you can’t air the first weekend of Olympic action LIVE on Saturday and Sunday afternoon? It defies reason.

But back to the laptop. You suck it up, tell yourself to be thankful that at least they have this awesome endless live feed online, where you can see every last thing as it goes down. You watch Lochte smoke Phelps this way, you’re getting into it. Then you start watching the semis of the women’s 100 fly… And then, freeze frame. The dreaded spinning wheel. Nothing at all. Awhile later it flashes to the start of the men’s 400 free final. You watch them dive in, the first 15 meters, and then… Nothing again. Back to the spinning wheel. You start texting your friends, see if it’s just you and your iffy connection in the mountains. No, the friends back in New York City are having the same issues. So is your friend in Chicago. Everybody is freezing, and everybody is pissed.

For twenty minutes, you stare at your laptop, trying to channel your best Skywalker and use the Force to get this fucking thing streaming again. No luck. You make the defiant decision to turn it off and force yourself, for the next five hours, to avoid all contact with results. Don’t check your phone, don’t look at any other sites. Wait for primetime, where you can watch it proper, on the right sized screen, with the right level of pomp and Olympic circumstance.

This is the new plan, if you can’t see it live on the computer, you’ll wait and pretend it’s live each night. You’ll live in a self-imposed bubble every afternoon for the next eight days.

8pm rolls around and you’re ready. The opening tease looks great, Costas sets the table with what’s in store tonight, you figure it will be just like Beijing, where they send it right out to Dan and Rowdy and for the next ninety minutes you get to marinate in swimming nirvana. Bring it on! I’ll even pretend I don’t know what happened in that 400 IM, the one race I actually got to watch on the laptop.

Except that doesn’t happen at all. First, we head out to beach volleyball for 45 minutes. Misty May and Kerri Walsh, back again for the three-peat, ok that’s cool, I’ll be getting back into their story as the week goes on. But, um, isn’t it time for the swimming? That is the number one Olympic sport now, right? Sure is, and you know what that means, don’t you? It means it has the Clooney time slot on Leno. That is, at the end, because they know you’ll wait for it. It’s the carrot now. And since it already happened, they can slice and dice it up any way they please. So watch some men’s gymnastics for a few hours and sit tight, pal.

Around 9:30pm, finally the race we’ve been waiting for, Lochte / Phelps, kicking off the swimming with style. Thank God, what a way to start, it was worth the wait… Now, how about the rest? Nope, back to men’s gymnastics. Then maybe another bite later, if you’re good. A bad ass men’s 400 free here, an epic women’s 400 IM there, served piecemeal, and each time the buzz builds out at the Olympic pool, it’s snatched away. Here’s some more gymno while you wait. Now, I have nothing against men’s gymnastics, what they do is superhuman, and I know I’m absurdly biased towards the swimming, but no matter what you’re into, this is no way to watch it.

Your choices seem to be a constantly freezing, stripped down live feed on your computer or an endlessly drawn out drip-drip-drip of races over a four hour period. There was less than 25 minutes of actual swimming action that took place tonight in London, and this was one of the long nights. Three 400 meter finals, one 400 meter relay, two sets of 100 meter semifinals… Live, it took about 90 minutes, when you include all the processions and medal ceremonies and interviews.

In primetime, it took four hours to see it all. After you presumably knew what happened. After you tried to watch it live on a Saturday afternoon on your computer, after you turned off the taped replays of prelims that happened to be airing on your actual TV right before the live events appeared – and then froze – on your laptop.

This is madness. And it’s no way to watch the world’s greatest sporting event.