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.
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