NBC televises the single best sports product on television – Sunday Night Football. It's the most watched, the most respected, the best announced, the best produced, and even presents the best studio coverage. It's the pinnacle of live sports television.
That's why it's so perplexing the same network also continues to botch live coverage of sporting events that takes viewers around the country to a time and place where you had to get up out of your chair and turn a dial to adjust the volume on your television sets.
The #NBCFail hashtag was one of the biggest stories of the London Olympics last Summer when NBC decided against showing many events live, preserving them for their primetime broadcast window instead. NBC was ripped from coast to coast for their inability and unwillingness to show events live on television in an information age that not only demands it, but necessitates it. NBC did offer events live through online streaming, but buffering problems were rampant and premier streams were often unbearable to watch.
During the most climactic moments of this year's French Open, NBC's controversial live events policy once again reared its ugly head as the network couldn't figure out whether they wanted to commit to showing live sports or Al Roker. The peacock disregarded showing Friday morning French Open coverage live to the entire country in a confusing, confounding series of events that left scores of tennis fans holding the bucket for Matt Lauer and company once again.
It would take a PhD in Quantum Physics to figure out French Open TV rights, but to set the scene for you on Friday morning – NBC had the rights to the French Open starting at 11 AM ET, which would be in time for the second semifinal. With Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semis, the tournament held the highly anticipated Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic semi first. The rights to that match were held by Tennis Channel. With Djokovic/Nadal going into a 5th set, the match went beyond 11 AM and NBC picked up live coverage when their window began.
There was a catch though, this live coverage only aired on the east coast because NBC wouldn't air tennis until the completion of The Today Show in every time zone. That means tennis fans west of Indy were relegated to online streams or hoping they had access to Tennis Channel to see the finish of the epic match.
NBC chose to air Hoda and Kathie Lee to the western third of the country instead of the final stages of what analyst John McEnroe called the greatest clay court match he had ever seen.
*cough anybody got a djokovic-nadal feed so I can watch actual tennis live instead of waiting three hours because NBC hates tennis cough*
— Bill Connelly (@SBN_BillC) June 7, 2013
A rite of late spring: French open tv deal and NBC's commitment to today show confuse and infuriate tennis fans across the land.
— Neil Best (@sportswatch) June 7, 2013
NBC shouldn't have the rights to something they're not committed to showing. #FrenchOpen
— Ann Killion (@annkillion) June 7, 2013
The last point made by Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle hits the bullseye. NBC can't play this game of television scheduling chicken any longer. Either air the French Open live to the entire country or don't. It's as simple as that, really. What's the point of airing something and paying for the rights to air it if you're going to half heartedly commit to actually televising it? What's the point of having the rights to the final stages of an instant classic if you're only going to air it to one part of the country?
If NBC wants to commit to airing The Today Show in all time zones until 11 AM every morning so be it. That's their decision as a network, after all The Today Show still averaged 4.5 million viewers in the last week of May even after ratings declines. I don't think anyone would begrudge NBC letting the French Open go to ESPN and/or Tennis Channel, who have delivered the consistent live coverage tennis fans deserve. NBC can't have their crepes and eat them too in this instance. They have to decide whether they want to show tennis or Today, it can't be both.
Let's stop this charade of going halfway with the French Open and angering tennis fans by showing matches live in one time zone and not in another. Imagine this happening with any other sporting event. It would be absurd. Yet for NBC, it's not only acceptable, but the status quo. Could you envision ESPN televising the British Open at 10 AM in every time zone to protect the live morning SportsCenter? What about when CBS airs the NCAA Tournament onThursday and Friday? After all, I can't imagine Victor Newman enjoys getting preempted by basketball on a yearly basis.
Even considering #NBCFail and their controversial Olympic coverage, this may be the single most antiquated strategy remaining in televising live sports. Staggering live coverage throughout time zones just doesn't makes sense, especially in the digital and social media age.
NBC had a gift land in their laps. The final set of a classic their own analyst called the greatest clay court match he had ever seen. And they couldn't even air it live to the entire country.
At least it's a nice warmup for Sochi.