In Depth

Column: I Want My Michael Phelps and I Can’t Have Him!

Last week I caught Michael Phelps fever. And NBC did nothing to bring my temperature down.

For starters, there was that little problem of forgetting that all of us out here on the West Coast wanted to watch him race at the SAME TIME as our friends in New York. Which meant it was pretty hard to be surprised three hours later when I was able to tune in to KNTV-TV in San Francisco to see the prime-time coverage of the Games. (When you’re an Internet reporter, it’s kind of tough to avoid knowing he had won race after race even during that three-hour tape delay between coasts.)

There is just something a little off about these Games. Here we are in the white-hot broadband video era and yet these Games are incredibly frustrating to watch. Despite the sheer number of hours across broadcast, cable, video-on-demand and the Web, you really can’t watch when you want.

For instance, when I wanted to show my kids each morning after that Phelps had won yet another event, the videos weren’t up in the VOD section of the Comcast cable menu. In fact, the VOD service didn’t seem to load its Olympics recaps until about 48 hours after the event being shown had actually occurred.

Then there’s the Web site, which didn’t seem to update as quickly as, say, the New York Times site did. And while NBC said before the Games that it would update its site with video recaps of marquee events like swimming and gymnastics about an hour after they aired, I noticed that on the night Phelps took home two golds (Tuesday, Aug. 12, when he won the 200m butterfly and the 4x200m freestyle relay) that the video from his second race still wasn’t on the site a little more than two hours after the victory.

I’m not crafty or determined enough to hack into some foreign broadcaster’s site or a peer-to-peer streaming service to watch the Games live. But a lot of other Web users are. Sites like and carried Olympics events live last week, resulting in what the New York Times so eloquently referred to as a game of “digital whack-a-mole” as NBC tried to shut down pirate operations, only to watch another crop up.

We have so much more Olympics programming at our disposal this go-round in so many different places than we did two years ago, yet it’s not enough. And that’s how far we have come as consumers in just a few years. Our expectations of programmers have changed dramatically.

But that doesn’t mean we’re likely to get what we want, when we want, where we want and how we want.

Because NBC is pounding out all sorts of broadcast ratings victories during these Games. And that, my friends, is what the advertisers want and what puts money in the bank.

(Daisy Whitney contributes on-air reports to NBC-owned stations in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.)