Olympic coverage has reality feel

A week removed from the end of the Winter Olympics, some moments remain vivid, but that poor-performing fifth ring during the Opening Ceremony, those overdone storylines about speedskaters’ uniforms and even the gold-medal snowboard runs are just part of the story.

The other, bigger, part of the story comes in what the Games mean for viewers – on TV and online – moving forward.

So, here are the top three things to keep in mind as a result of the Games:

No. 3: Analysts for Olympic sports – especially bobsled, luge and skeleton – have the best vision of any analysts in any sport. Ever.

Even with competitors moving as fast as 80 mph, NBC’s on-air talent consistently told viewers to “look at the eyes” of those competitors. Or, they told viewers what they saw in those eyes.

Sorry, but there’s just no way – especially with those same competitors wearing visors and going so fast – that anyone saw their eyes, or the emotion in them. It was just hyperbole and viewers should expect more, even from analysts who get big assignments on typically minor sports only once every so many years. The analysts’ bosses should expect more, too.

That said, the most gold-meal-worthy on-air talent of the Winter Olympics was Mike Emrick, who makes hockey worth watching. Behind him in the silver and bronze slots were Tara Lipinski/Johnny Weir, the network’s best pair of ice skating analysts, and Mary Carillo, who did a good job sharing the people and the personalities, from athletes to the host city itself.

No. 2: Despite prime-time numbers for NBC that sagged compared to previous Olympics, the network still won the nightly ratings battle.

That’s always good for a U.S. broadcast partner.

More importantly, NBC’s strategy of spreading content over a variety of outlets produced records for online viewership and made NBC Sports Network somewhat relevant.

NBC Sports Network was a big winner. Thanks to the Olympics, it experienced a 494 percent viewership increase in February vs. January, according to Sports Business Daily.

Granted, hardly anyone ever watches the all-sports network that was rebranded as NBCSN just 25 months ago, but having many high-profile Olympic sports live in the morning and early afternoon made a huge difference in those February ratings.

While the ratings bounce will not be repeatable in March, at least the Winter Olympics helped a few more people know about NBCSN.

No. 1: We’re well on our way to more of a reality-show feel for the Olympics. And that’s not a good thing.

A quarter century ago, the Olympics meant “up close and personal” features, often focusing on athletes from foreign countries. These days, though, it’s almost all U.S. athletes all the time, and if there’s not a bit of controversy, familiarity or emotion, NBC showed it would do its best to contrive some.

The list of examples includes abundant attention for Lolo Jones, whose bobsled bid was not nearly as successful as that of teammate Lauryn Williams. Both are track-and-field athletes who made the transition to bobsled, and despite the fact that Williams, a Pennsylvania native, was more successful by every measure it was still Jones who got more TV coverage.

Also on the list was the tougher-than-necessary post-race interview with U.S. skier Bodie Miller, as NBC and reporter Christin Cooper, pushed and pushed until Miller broke down when discussing his brother’s death.

Similarly, pairs figure skating favorites were easily identifiable because they consistently referenced by their first names. Competitors who were not expected to finish as well were mentioned by their last names.

The scariest part about the reality-show feel is that it might become even more pronounced for the next broadcast of the Olympics.

Tuner tidbits

n Ready to see some Pirates spring training action on TV? Their split-squad game against the Red Sox airs at 1:05 p.m. March 9 on Root Sports.

n Penn State’s final home men’s basketball game of the regular season – at noon Sunday vs. Wisconsin – can be found on the Big Ten Network.

n In a shakeup of “The NFL Today,” CBS Sports sacked Pro Football Hall of Famers Dan Marino and Shannon Sharpe. They’ve been replaced by soon-to-be Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez and linebacker Bart Scott, who played for the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets.

Steve Sampsell covers the broadcast end of sports for the Mirror. He may be contacted at