The news that Simone Biles had to withdraw with an apparent injury during the women’s team final in Tokyo will end up being one of the biggest stories of these Olympics.
You know, the Olympics that NBC is paying ten figures to broadcast exclusively. As is tradition, though, for locations that don’t line up perfectly with prime time viewing hours in the United States, NBC is running major events in tape delayed format, despite the results being widely known ahead of time. They do now allow streaming of events live, of course, which is a big step, but today’s news offered a different kind of test to their coverage style.
With the Biles news unfolding and the pseudo-Russian team winning gold (over a very resilient and shorthanded American group), NBC elected to talk about Biles during morning show coverage today, while not actually showing any of the event itself.
A representative example, with Mike Tirico on Today discussing the event while still images are shown:
At a certain point considering the importance of the story, there was an argument to be made that NBC would have been better off just going with actual video so a wider audience could see what was happening. They can do that!
We were just talking about that. No video?
— Paul Pabst (@PaulPabst) July 27, 2021
On one hand, yes, obviously NBC wants to build ratings as much as possible (and setting all the other more meaningful issues with her injury aside, Biles exiting the Olympics early is a big blow to NBC.) But not covering this fully as it was happening or even in the immediate aftermath is a really questionable decision. Even just a few video clips would have been a real improvement.
Instead, even if they don’t intend for it to come across this way, it feels like NBC encouraging everyone to tune in tonight to see what happens. That might generate viewership, for sure, but it also feels pretty odd in 2021 when you already hosted streaming video of the entire event, and when the intrigue is surrounding a beloved athlete’s apparent medical issue (or whatever it was/is.)
Says that she felt bad after practice earlier in the day, was full of stress, shaking. So when the first vault went badly, she knew she had to step away because she feared she would wreck it for her teammates
— Matt Dickinson (@DickinsonTimes) July 27, 2021
If the Olympics are the biggest and most important thing in sports and society as NBC’s marketing would have us believe, not breaking in with video in a moment isn’t a great look.