Originally created 09/22/00

Tape-delayed TV Olympics are a snoozer



So I found myself turning to MSNBC really, really early Thursday morning hoping for some live Olympic coverage from Sydney. Maybe an innocuous team handball game. Maybe some trampolining. Maybe some synchronized diving.

I do admit to being a sports fan every once in a while, one who finds the Olympian's plight interesting every four years. Since everyone in Australia seems to be in another hemisphere, any chance to feel nearby would be appreciated.

At about 2:30 in the a.m. Thursday, the streets around my apartment were clear, and the China vs. United States softball game was on the television. (This might show more of my insomniac tendencies than my craving for sports knowledge, but I digress.)

For about an inning, I watched, trying to figure out the participants and why I should remain interested. Then it struck me. I already knew who would win. China, 2-0, in 14 innings.

ESPN had told me so. As had CNN. As had the Associated Press. As had The Augusta Chronicle Web site (shameless promotional plug). As has all the other news outlets committed to transmitting Sydney's daily beat across the Pacific.

With that, I wondered why the American television network that had paid $705 million for broadcasting exclusivity felt compelled to present viewers 24 hour-old news and attempt to pass it off as if they were in the throes of uncovering a shocking upset?

Knowing what I knew, I found another repeat, this one of Law & Order, to send me into my nightly slumber.

When I awoke and ESPN's SportsCenter reported that American swimmer Lenny Krayzelburg had won the 200-meter backstroke gold at roughly the same time as that China softball upset, I tried not to be angry with the Peacock network. Disappointed, absolutely.

It's not easy being an Olympic follower, what with the 15-hour time difference to complicate timing. That the 2000 Summer Games find themselves in competition with college and professional football, and those thrilling wild- card races, do not help either.

But when NBC deliberately delays the news with its decision to make these the Tape-Delayed Games, why should network execs be surprised at the 38 percent drop in viewership from the Atlanta Games, or the 20 percent drop from the Barcelona Games? Who wants to invest their evenings watching events when most already know how it'll turn out?

Do you think 54 million viewers would have tuned into the Survivor finale had they already been told that Richard the Rat would win? By the way, the ratings for those reruns are precipitously in decline also, showing that Americans may be duped to watch a fake show once, but definitely not twice.

If you knew the score to Thursday's Georgia Tech vs. N.C. State game prior to kickoff, would you still sit through more than three hours of it? Let's hope not.

What makes sports the compelling show that it is stems from its unpredictability. Who knew Kirk Gibson would homer off Dennis Eckersley, or Kirby Puckett would homer off Charlie Liebrandt? Who knew Morten Andersen would make that field goal against the Vikings, and Gary Anderson would miss from the same spot?

The most compelling Olympic moments of the last two decades -- Carl Lewis' final long jump, Michael Johnson's 200-meter record, Dan Jansen's speed skating gold, Mary Lou Retton's and Kerri Strug's vault, Roy Jones' robbery in Seoul, the Miracle on Ice -- were all shown live.

That's why we watch sports. To be thrilled by the unknown.

The only unknown this Olympics is which unknown Olympian will be profiled next. NBC is doing its viewership a disservice by trying to package these Games around its features.

Give all of us insomniacs a reason to tune in the wee hours.

ReachRick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219.