Earlier this month, we watched some of the world’s greatest athletes compete on the world’s largest stage in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. The stories of inspiration were played and replayed – Manteo Mitchell, who ran half a lap on a broken leg during the team relay, Oscar Pistorius, who competed in track and field without feet, Sarah Attar, who became the first woman from Saudi Arabia to compete in track and field, Kayla Harrison, who became the first American gold medalist in judo, after triumphing over sexual abuse by her coach as a young teenager, and many others.
As they have for decades, NBC did their level best to make us feel inspired at every turn.
We may think the Olympics are about competition, courage, excellence, teamwork, and other noble nouns. NBC sells the drama, and even though we may mock their over-the-top broadcast style (it’s not just me, right?), it must be selling well for them to spend the amount of money they spend to cover the Olympics – NBC paid $4.38 billion last year to extend its Olympic broadcasting rights through 2020. During the sixteen days of the 2012 London Games, it was possible to watch the Olympics (some live, some tape delayed) every waking minute of the day in the US – often on multiple channels at once.
By contrast, NBC will air only 5.5 hours of the eleven day long Paralympic Games (none of them live). One 90-minute segment will air a week after the Paralympics end (and in direct competition with two NFL games) with four other 60-minute segments on the NBC Sports Network. In Great Britain, 150 hours of coverage will be available, with 350 additional hours available online or on demand. In Australia, the ABC will air about 100 hours of the Games, including some live events. Many other countries will air several hours of Paralympics coverage each day.
It’s very disappointing.
NBC obviously feels that the viewing public in the US wishes to be inspired – who is more inspiring than the Paralympians? Each and every one of them has a story that could be told with great drama by Bob Costas. One of my favorite stories is that of U.S. swimmer Jessica Long, a 20 year old who will be competing in her third Paralympics this year. She is a double amputee who was adopted from a Russian orphanage just after her first birthday. My sentimental favorite, though is Sophia Warner, a 38-year-old sprinter with cerebral palsy who sounds a lot like my daughter.
I understand, NBC – coverage is driven by ad revenue in the US.
You think there isn’t a big enough market yet. You think that people don’t care enough about watching disabled athletes compete. The Paralympics doesn’t have the same history and pageantry of the Olympics. But you own not only the NBC network, but also cable channels Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC, NBC Sports Network, USA Network, Sci-Fi, Universal HD, and probably some others I’ve forgotten. Are you certain a daytime marathon of NCIS on a Wednesday is a bigger draw?
If NBC believes people don’t want to see disabled athletes compete, they’re wrong. When Sarah Kate played softball this spring – on a typical team – parents and fans cheered for her, even when they were supporting the other team, and they didn’t cheer out of pity. I heard the same words over and over again used to describe her: brave, courageous, amazing, inspiring. The Paralympians are all that and much more, because they, like their able-bodied Olympic counterparts, have dedicated their lives to training for this competition – and without the benefit of watching their disabled peers on their home television sets as children. Take a chance on the Paralympics, NBC.