Monday, August 11, 2008

NBC's Subtle Editing Changed Complexion of Opening Ceremonies

I had the rare privilege of watching the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics twice. Like millions of others, I watched most of it on NBC, but like thousands of others, I saw the same ceremonies live hours earlier on a German television network, courtesy of a link provided by the New York Times.

It was an interesting day of television. The ceremonies themselves were magnificent -- the Beijing Olympic organizing committee and governmental officials put out all the stops to provide some stunning cinematic moments. But it was the subtle differences between the video portions that were more thought-provoking.

U.S. television viewers were among the few that could not, theoretically, watch the ceremonies live. NBC, in order to protect its $900 million investment in exclusive U.S. broadcast rights, wanted it in prime time -- to attract larger audiences and more lucrative advertising rates. They certainly attempted to filter out any websites that brought the ceremony live in order to protect that exclusivity. Somehow this broadcast was not filtered. The German broadcast, a part of the European Broadcast Union's rights deal, was bought for less than half of that amount.

That being said, here's a snap comparison of the coverage. Unfortunately (and that is a big unfortunately), I do not speak or understand German, so the commentary was lost to me. But visually, NBC edited some portions of the parade of nations in the interests of time and advertising placement Some nations were "sped up" by fade out editing, but I think just about every nation was covered. But what was not shown in the NBC presentation was the discomfort of some dignitaries and athletes because of the heat and humidity. It was 90 degrees at the Stadium, along with humidity over 70 percent and sweat beads was a part of many. The back of one German athlete's jacket was dripping in water. Pictures of Henry Kissinger, among others, removing his jacket, in an attempt to be more comfortable, were also not shown.

Although NBC's crew, led by Bob Costas, did a professional job and did not overly pander to the hosts, the pictures delivered showed a more comfortable surrounding than that of the German production. Whether that was coincidence or not, things seemed more temperate on NBC (and by extension more pleasing) than in the German telecast.

With the difficulties of maintaining exclusivity in the digital age more and more apparent, we'll see if this is the last Olympics to tape-delay its proceedings.


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