NBC's time-warp TV seems OK with audience

Media Watch

July 25, 1996|By Milton Kent

No matter what you may think of NBC's coverage to date, and many of you think a great deal, witness the booming ratings, the network certainly knows how to manipulate.

There's no doubt that NBC played journalistic footsy with the circumstances surrounding Tuesday's women's team gymnastics finals, first by suggesting that the competition was live, when, in fact, it was over before the prime-time program ever came on the air at 7: 30 p.m.

Then, it delayed any news of the injury to Kerri Strug until nearly the end of the telecast, more than four hours before some news organizations had reported it, and about an hour before Strug appeared on CNN to talk about her performance and the injury that followed.

NBC officials said all along that they would not report the results of an event before it aired, but that rule should be waived when actual news, like, for instance, an injury to a competitor, arises.

To its credit, NBC can turn journalistic when doing so doesn't defeat the purpose, say, for instance last night, when, in the first 30 minutes of the prime-time telecast, it reported that Strug would not compete in tonight's all-around finals, and that swimmer Janet Evans had broken a toe.

Of course, NBC has its reasons for doing things this way, including the $456 million it paid to the International Olympic Committee for the United States telecast rights and the freedom that gives them to present a telecast that is appealing enough to draw viewers who will watch the ads to recoup those fees.

Also, the IOC has promised its European rights holders that the gymnastics competitions will air in prime-time there, so the meets have been going off mostly in the afternoon, like today's women's finals. And don't forget that while an 11: 30 or later finish is tough on East Coast children, the corresponding 8: 30 Pacific time zone component is perfect for the West Coast.

Still, the most important reason that NBC can juggle the competition is that audiences don't care and are eating it up.

Tuesday's session garnered a 27.2 Nielsen national rating with a 47 share of the audience, the largest Olympic prime-time rating since ABC got a 27.4 rating for a July, 1976 telecast during the Montreal Games.

The network estimates that approximately 99 million people watched all or part of Tuesday's coverage and that the ratings peaked in the final half-hour of the telecast, perhaps proving that you truly can fool a lot of the people a lot of the time.

The good and responsible

NBC did right by Irish swimmer Michelle Smith, who won her third gold medal last night in the 200-meter individual medley.

Reporter Jim Gray took a decidedly less confrontational tack with Smith in the post-race interview than he had two nights HTC earlier, when he asked about her late entry into the 400-meter freestyle field and about accusations that she has taken steroids.

Next, Bob Costas reported that Smith had been tested numerous times for steroids and had come back clean each time, then adding that perhaps it was time to give Smith the benefit of the doubt.

Finally, NBC showed Smith's medal presentation ceremony, replete with the Irish natives singing their national anthem. It's one of the few times a non-American winner has been shown claiming their prize. The three things were a nice form of make-up to an aggrieved party, and the network should be commended.

Pub Date: 7/25/96

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