Chicks Dig It

The U.S. men's volleyball team scored a terrific victory over surprising and tenacious Venezuela on Sunday. Sorry you missed it, but I can't blame you -- you had to stay up until 3 a.m. to see who'd win (I did; it wasn't a school night).

Volleyball is a great game (and a great TV game), requiring speed, power, athleticism and strategy. But volleyball is also one of the many Olympic sports that will never get primetime coverage. Synchronized diving will, though. So will women's beach volleyball. And so will gymnastics (boy, will gymnastics ever).

Why? Well, ratings, of course. But more important, women. Women like these sports, and women are the key audience for NBC's extravaganza. Female viewers, in fact, are the reason why the Olympics aren't really about sports at all.

The Games are really a heavily-packaged series of unscripted "dramas" with a sports theme, a multibillion-dollar reality show with really fit contestants. NBC knows from extensive research and years of expensive trial and error (remember the ill-fated "Triplecast" of 1992, when NBC tried to get hardcore sports fans to buy Olympic events on pay-per-view?) that men are loyal Olympic viewers; it's women they have to work to attract.

So NBC dispenses with the usual features of sports TV -- no stats, no results, very little news of other games. In primetime, they also skip the sports that women hate (I'm looking at you, boxing). Yes, there will be track and swimming in primetime -- both genders like those -- but there will also be lots of tumbling and diving, and possibly -- ugh! -- even equestrian. And because women (moreso than men) like to know about the athletes, there's lots of "backstory," too (last night, there were featurettes on American swimmer Natalie Coughlin's gourmet cooking hobby and on a romantic triangle involving a French and an Italian swimmer).

Check out who's sponsoring the Games, too. There are the usual sports advertisers (Budweiser, GMC, Lexus, etc.), but also ones you'll never see in an NFL game (Johnson & Johnson, Neosporin, Wal-Mart, Pledge furniture polish, etc.). Not for nothing was the TV version of the Games long ago dubbed the "Oprah Olympics." It's more true than ever.

NBC's coverage of swimming continues to shine. The U.S. men's 4x100-meter freestyle was about as exciting an event as you can imagine in a pool, and NBC caught all of it -- Jason Lezak's come-from-behind anchor leg, great reaction shots from his teammates, multiple angle replays, the interviews (with American Garrett Weber-Gale serving up the quote of the day about the U.S. team's motivation: "Those Frenchies were talking stuff!"). Plus, just-right commentary from Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines. This is why we love watching the Olympics.

By Paul Farhi  |  August 11, 2008; 1:33 AM ET
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Comments

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Natalie Coughlin is a total babe and seems like a really grounded person.

Posted by: Arny | August 11, 2008 3:12 AM

Except that who gives a hoot -- she's a swimmer. Swim, Natalie, swim.

Posted by: Cynic | August 11, 2008 3:38 AM

I find it slightly offensive to characterize "all women" as only interested in personalities, and not in stats and (by implication) serious stuff. My mother in law is one of the more serious baseball fans I know, and a woman friend follows football (fanatically). I find it hard to dive into 20+ sports when I've heard NO coverage of most of these athletes until today. Without presenting a statistical history on international activity in each sport, the trend and the athlete, the easiest way in is with a short bio. I would suggest the networks pick a couple favourite amateur sports or minor level activity where the amateurs play, and keep us posted, so we have more organized coverage at Olympics time. And by the way, I found this article because I'm looking for the results of yesterday's women's volleyball on the 'net, and I can't find it. Where's the numbers?

Posted by: canada west | August 11, 2008 9:16 AM

Everyone likes to rag on NBC, but I will say that they have done some excellent things with these Olympics. There are many other sports on their million cable channels. And they have USAHD and UniversalHD showing lots of good stuff with a minimum of the treacly human interest crap...and in HD! If you want boxing it is on USA network pretty much 24 hours a day. Plus there are the dedicated Olympic Soccer and Basketball channels showing every game for each of those competitions in HD and without interruption in the case of soccer. And what's even better about those matches is that you don't even have to sit through 15 minutes of halftime on the taped games.

Plus their website is streaming pretty much every other competition that hasn't got a prayer of every getting on TV. The video quality is quite good. It is basically the raw live feed with the Olympic standard graphics but no commentary whatsoever. That takes some getting used to. And with sports where you don't really know the rules like Field Hockey and Handball it can be a little difficult to follow. But it is almost like being there in the stands with no one to tell you anything. I like it.

Posted by: Glenn | August 11, 2008 11:18 AM

That's great news Glenn. I just wish I could afford cable/satellite to view those other channels. Also wish I had the time. I will say though that I like the backstory stuff. That kind of stuff sticks in your mind a little bit longer than the actual events ( except for the very memorable events re:Olga Korbut's backflip or Nadia Commenchi's perfect 10, I still remember that:I'm 45) I remember ABC used to even do backstory spots on athletes from other countrys, which I think was very nice. It gave you a look at the main competition for the medals. By the way, I'm not a woman.

Posted by: rja112 | August 12, 2008 5:18 AM

"Women like these sports, and women are the key audience for NBC's extravaganza."

I guess this explains why Bob Costas kept mentioning the number of female athletes for each of the muslim countries as well as those county's records on human rights.

Posted by: Terry | August 12, 2008 3:34 PM

I love it when people make these sweeping statements about what men and women like or not. As a male, I'm really not interested in sports of any kind, but I do admire the efforts that sports people put into their passion. That they are passionate is applaudable, despite the fact that they are glorified children's games. My wife, however loves the Olympics. More footage of the less often televised sports would be good, though and less of the ones that are constantly on our screens, like hockey and soccer.

Posted by: Craig | August 12, 2008 11:24 PM

Ok Craig, you're the one man who doesn't like sports, fine-we get it. But TV decisions are based off of sweeping statements becuase sweeping statements a re fact. MOST men like sports and don't care about back story and MOST women have a casual interest in sports and need a little extra to draw them in as viewers. People are so easily offended at anything.

Posted by: Ugh | August 14, 2008 8:47 AM

I enjoyed watching the games years ago when many of the players were amateurs. Frankly, I have a difficult time sitting in front of the chatter box to watch people who earn multi-millions in salaries and/or endorsements. If you're earning those kinds of bucks as a pro something or other what's the point of being in the Olympics?

Posted by: Joot | August 14, 2008 10:35 PM

It is not about what women like, it is about what they are forced to watch for commercial interests. Of course women like to watch another females playing whichever sport is broadcasted, the problem is the lack of good judgment shown by the TV companies while broadcasting the Olympics. Ask to any Brazilian, Cuban, or Venezuelan female who waits until 3:00 or 4:00 am to watch their teams playing LIVE on national television, whether they like or not watching women’s volleyball. It is about options…lol

Posted by: rhernandez | August 16, 2008 5:06 PM

It is not about what women like, it is about what they are forced to watch for commercial interests. Of course women like to watch another females playing whichever sport is broadcasted, the problem is the lack of good judgment shown by the TV companies while broadcasting the Olympics. Ask to any Brazilian, Cuban, or Venezuelan female who waits until 3:00 or 4:00 am to watch their teams playing LIVE on national television, whether they like or not watching women’s volleyball. It is about options…lol

Posted by: rhernandez | August 16, 2008 5:31 PM

Personally, I'm insulted as a woman.

Do they think because I'm a XX, I automatically only want to see the women's version of anything?

I'd rather watch the Men's Gymnastics - it's far more impressive. And yes, right now, I'm watching every, bleeding minute of the Women's Marathon, interspersed with last night's 100m Men's sprint. But I'm watching the marathon BECAUSE I HAVE NO OTHER OPTION, unless I want to use the crappy Silverlight player to see something else live.

I want to know who does the Marketing for NBC. So I can specifically ask them to fire the bunch. Women have diverse interests - and we don't always want the back-story, thank you. We like stats just as much as the men!

Posted by: Chasmosaur | August 16, 2008 9:18 PM

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