By Mark Mravic
In 1992 I was one of the handful of Americans who subscribed to NBC's "Triplecast" of the Barcelona Olympics, three channels of live pay-per-view coverage in addition to the net's traditional over-the-air offering. The project was a massive financial flop and became something of a running joke in media circles, but beyond the money element I've never understood the bad rap it got.
From an Olympic fans' perspective the Triplecast was a godsend. I remember watching such events as platform diving and the long jump from beginning to end, live, as they happened. In sharp contrast to the customary heavily edited and overly sentimentalized treatment of events that viewers had been accustomed to (NBC's prime-time coverage of the long jump at Barcelona, for instance, consisted of five jumps; I counted), the Triplecast offered no-frills, unadulterated competition, and nothing but. As you watched an event progress -- seeing every competitor in every round -- you could really begin to recognize the subtle differences that set the better athletes apart, and gain a greater appreciation for what it takes to win at the highest level.
It turns out that the Triplecast was an idea ahead of its time. With the vast expansion of the media universe, NBC is offering the Beijing Games on a seemingly endless number of channels and platforms -- NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, USA, Telemundo, Oxygen, UniversalHD, the Basketball Channel, the Soccer Channel, live and archived video online, mobile phone and e-mail updates. Did I leave any out? In fact, it's all a bit overwhelming.
As the pro football editor at SI, I've been a bit preoccupied by pigskin in recent weeks (some guy named Favre, in particular) and have not had much of chance to plan out my Olympic viewing schedule. Now, jumping in this week, my head is spinning from the prospect of nearly 3,000 hours of coverage over the next two and half weeks. What'll it be on Saturday afternoon: badminton, basketball, equestrian, handball? The mind boggles. Not that I'm complaining.
I hauled myself out of bed this morning at 4:45, shades of the 2002 World Cup, to watch the U.S. men's Olympic soccer opener against Japan. What a joy to see an entire Olympic event, live, uncut, unedited, with no commercial interruptions during the run of play. And Italy-Honduras on Telemundo at the same time. And Argentina-Ivory Coast after that. It was an Olympic viewer's paradise. And to think, the Games don't even officially open for another day.
Soccer analyst Marcelo Balboa was roundly criticized for his performance on ABC's 2006 World Cup broadcasts, so imagine the surprise when he turned up on this morning's U.S.-Japan telecast. Many of the same issues from Germany were still apparent. While he makes good points on occasion Balboa often trips over himself to talk, contradicts himself and has a somewhat narrow range of analytical vocabulary. Here's Balboa talking over a replay of a Japan scoring opportunity late in the first half: "Uchida does a nice job. They're doin' a niiiice ... China's doin' a... Ja.... China's doing a nice job of getting the ball... Japan, sorry... getting the ball, getting it wide. Marvell Wynne does a nice job, he knocks it out." Like Brandi Chastain on the women's side, Balboa also serves as the halftime and post-game studio analyst. Arggh.
With the Beijing Games as justification, I finally broke down and bought an HDTV. It's a 32-inch Panasonic LCD with 720p resolution. I see where 1080p is now the state of the art. So I've got immediate buyer's remorse. But the HD pictures are still phenomenal. So how are you going to handle the deluge of Olympic coverage? Do you have your viewing schedule mapped out for the next two and a half weeks? And should I have splurged on the 1080p?