NBC rides Olympic ratings wave

For the past two weeks, I was absolutely addicted to the Winter Olympics.

I've been an ice hockey fan since birth, but since the Vancouver Games came to a close, I am now comfortable with the biathlon, I can explain how curling is scored and I know that the Jamaicans could never, ever field a successful bobsled team.

There is one subject I am still a little hazy on, though: Why is NBC being rewarded in the ratings game for their handling of Olympics coverage?

Before the Olympics, NBC hung on a dangerous precipice. The network allowed their late-night schema to utterly self-destruct. They lost a major public relations battle by backing the utterly unfunny and unscrupulous Jay Leno in his timeslot war against Conan O'Brien. The fallout from that struggle has left NBC's late-night programming in complete disarray, and left many of O'Brien's former employees displaced and out of work.

NBC needed to use the Olympic Games to distract the public from the fallout of that power struggle, regroup and recover. Their efforts mostly failed.

The scheduling and programming of the games was disastrous. It is very possible that the International Olympic Committee shares some responsibility for this error. Take, for example, Sunday's gold medal game between Team USA and Team Canada's men's ice hockey squads. Both teams played extremely well throughout the tournament, leading right up to Team Canada's gold medal win - Sunday's match was perhaps one of the best hockey games broadcast in quite some time.

The problem? We received it at 3:30 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. A game of that stature deserved a primetime slot. That was far from the only offense NBC committed, though. Some of the best and most anticipated sporting events were relegated to channels within NBC's umbrella but outside the realm of basic cable viewers such as CNBC and USA. This meant that for many Olympic watchers, choice of event was extremely limited.

Additionally, our friends on the western side of the country who live in the same time zone as the Olympic Games received a delayed broadcast of most games to match the time of day that events were shown on the east coast. In a world of instantaneous communication, news broadcasts often ruined the dramatic results of competitions for west-coast watchers.

All this, and NBC still made out like a bandit on the ratings. Was it worth it? The network shelled out serious cash for the rights to the games, but since the closing ceremonies have ended NBC will return to a fractured late-night lineup centered on a pinnacle figure of bad comedy. They've got some quality programming otherwise, but "Community" and "The Office" will not pull NBC out of the gutter alone.

Enjoy the ratings while they last, NBC. You won't be on top again for quite some time.

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