Wednesday, August 1, 2012


I’m writing up a story about the controversies surrounding #nbcfail. I’d love to find sources that can talk about this on a higher level—why NBC has made certain moves (such as the tape delay and control over content distribution, for instance).

To recoup the billion-plus dollars it’s paid to broadcast the Olympics, NBC needs to sell ads. Lots and lots of ads. Digital dimes and mobile pennies don’t cut it; the network needs broadcast dollars—30-second spots that appear in prime time on TV.

Indeed, at bottom, NBC cares more about pleasing advertisers than it does its audience. After all, like all TV stations, it works in an advertiser-supported business.

So you’re having trouble watching Michael Phelps on your iPad in the middle of the day? That only forces you to watch him at night, where NBC’s anchors can promote his swim, weave it into a narrative, and bracket it with million-dollar commercials.

Addendum: Slate’s Josh Levin articulates the point nicely: “It’s the suckers who pile up the ratings points that pay the network’s bills, and the network pays them back by treating them like an ATM rather than an audience.”

Addendum (8/3/2012): This reality applies to politics, too. As Time’s Michael Crowley observes, “We may live in an iPhone world, but political campaigns are still fought on Panasonic battlefields in the form of hugely expensive television advertising campaigns.”