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Olympics should reel in viewers again despite the pandemic chaos

  • "In an age of ultra-high definition and the ability to watch any sporting event anywhere in the world live on your phone, it has become a mostly accepted axiom that sports are made-for-television events," says Will Leitch. "But this is never more true than at the Olympics. The Olympics are a television show. They are more than that to the athletes involved, of course — people who have trained their entire lives to master very specific pursuits, many of which only draw mainstream coverage once every four years (or five years, in this pandemic-delayed case). But for you, me, and everybody else, they are a fortnight of mini-dramas. All those years of hard work are distilled into four-minute video pieces introducing us to an athlete, getting us hooked on their story, with the entire arc of their lives edited into bite-size chunks of programming. People experience the Olympics  in short chunks, to be forgotten about quickly before they move onto something else. They are, in their purest sense, reality TV. And if there were ever a year in which the Olympics need to be exactly that — with all the chaos and boring parts edited away — this sure is it. By every account, the Olympics are already a mess. Athletes are testing positive for COVID in growing numbers. Tokyo is in a state of emergency. Japanese citizens have been begging the Olympics to stay away for months. Major corporate sponsors, the true lifeblood of the Olympics, are already bailing; Toyota, one of the core Olympic advertisers, is pulling all commercials in Japan because they don’t want to offend the locals by even being attached to these games. No spectators are allowed at any events, which has evaporated a large swath of the revenue Tokyo had been expecting (perhaps wrongly) to be injected into its economy, and neither athletes nor media members are even allowed to exit the Olympic village and, in some cases, their cramped hotel rooms....This is the thing, though: You, the viewer, don’t have to worry about any of that. Well, sure, you can worry about it in a macro, human sense; holding an Olympics in the middle of a COVID surge in an undervaccinated nation whose citizens want absolutely nothing to do with any of this is probably something we should all be hesitant to associate ourselves with. But that’s not the way any of us are going to experience it. We’re going to experience it as good television. NBC has proven expert at shaving off Olympic unpleasantness in the past. Sochi is a case in point: Heading into the games, all anyone could talk about was how much of a terrorist target they were (and let’s not forget what was going on in Crimea and the Ukraine during the Sochi Olympic fortnight). The last Summer Olympics, in Rio, are another example: They were held amid the Zika virus, mass public discontent around Brazil’s massive spending to fund the games, and widespread questions about whether the country was actually ready to host the event. But watching at home, you wouldn’t have been privy to much of any of this. The Olympics are scrubbed for television. And the Tokyo Olympics are going to require a lot of scrubbing."


    TOPICS: Summer Olympics, ESPN, NBC, Peacock, Lester Holt, Molly Solomon, Pete Bevacqua, Coronavirus, NBC Sports