NBC won't show the opening ceremony live, and their explanation is eyebrow-raising

Maracana Stadium Rio OlympicsBuda Mendes/GettyMaracanĂ£ Stadium.

The Olympics officially kick off on Friday night with the opening ceremony, where fireworks, preppy Team USA outfits, and even Gisele Bündchen will be featured from Rio’s Maracanã Stadium.

The event is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Eastern Time, but NBC, which paid $1.2 billion for the American TV rights, has said that it will broadcast the proceedings on a tape delay and the reasons are interesting, to say the least.

In a press conference in July, NBC executives announced that the opening ceremony will be broadcast at 8 p.m. EST and 7 pm. Central Time (delayed one hour), and — more frustratingly — 7 p.m. Mountain Time and 8 p.m. Pacific Time (delayed four hours).

NBC’s online stream of the opening ceremony will also be run on the same delay.

Here’s NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus explaining his reasoning:

“We think it’s important to give the context to the show. This opening ceremony will be a celebration of Brazilian culture, of Rio, of the pageantry, the excitement, of the flare that this beautiful nation has. We think it’s important that we’re able to put that in context for the viewer so it’s not just a flash of colour. And so we will air that on a one-hour delay.”

When pushed, Lazarus admitted that ratings were also (obviously) a central factor in the decision:

“By doing a short tape-delay of one hour, it allows us to put it in a time period when more people are home to watch, because it is a Friday night and they get out of their commute or home from wherever they are. And it allows us to curate it with the narrative and storytelling of our announcers to explain what’s going on. And it allows us to put in commercials without cutting out large chunks of the show.”

NBC has every right to want a large audience to watch the opening ceremony, and the tape-delay also allows them to curate the event in a way that best pleases them. Should anything unexpected or controversial happen, like the anti-discrimination message from Sochi in 2014 (which NBC did not broadcast), they can have control over how to broadcast it. (It’s also in the IOC’s best interest to have NBC run the opening ceremony on tape delay, as the IOC takes a hefty share of the TV revenue.)

But NBC has also said it will tape-delay several marquee athletic events (swimming and gymnastics most prominent among them) so that they televised in prime time. This is more frustrating, of course, because social media renders tape delays largely pointless. Plus, it’s not as though these events are happening in real time in the middle of the night. Basically, if you don’t want the result of an event ruined, you’ll have to stay off social media.

And it’s here that NBC’s reasoning for the tape delay gets rather perplexing. John Miller, NBC’s chief marketing officer, seems to say that delaying the broadcast is OK because women don’t care:

The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. More women watch the Games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and mini-series wrapped into one. And to tell the truth, it has been the complaint of a few sports writers. It has not been the complaint of the vast viewing public.

Miller is right to say that the average casual fan of the Olympics likely doesn’t follow many Olympic sports outside the games. That’s true for both men and for women. But his logic seems to be that the large female audience watching the Olympics are watching for the feel good, human interest narratives, and not the actual competitions or results. The corollary that follows would be that men exclusively care about the results. At best, this feels like a stale and outdated understanding of how and why both men and women consume consume sports.

Plus, a recent Gallup poll showed that American women’s interest in the Olympics is dropping. Whereas 63% of women polled in 2012 expressed a “great deal” or “fair amount” of interest in watching the London Games, only 47% said the same about Rio.

In the end, the opening ceremony isn’t an athletic event, and spoilers aren’t going to be the end of the world. It’s still frustrating that the tape delay exists for such shameless ratings reasons, but that’s nothing new. To get around it for the actual events, you can always just watch online.

NBC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider

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