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Land of the Delay, Home of the Tape

by Samuel Chi

It's a staggering fact that of the nearly 200 nations participating in the Beijing Olympics, the United States might be the only one where live coverage of the Opening Ceremony is unavailable.

Why? Thanks to NBC, which continues its criminal practice of "saving" the best of the Games for prime time -- a tactic that began in 1992 when the network first secured Olympics TV rights and continued to near-perfection to this day.

Basically, Dick Ebersol and his minions don't want you to think of the Olympics as a sporting event. They want you to view it as though it's theater. We all know what happens at the end of Hamlet but we'd still see it, right?

The problem is, sporting events can't be scripted (with apologies to the NBA). Neither can news events. And the Olympics are both.

Let's say a bomb goes off in the middle of the Opening Ceremonies. It would instantly reverberate around the globe. Footage of the carnage will be immediately beamed all over the world -- except in the United States.

Because NBC holds the exclusive U.S. broadcast rights, nothing from the Games' venues may be viewed anywhere in America except for on its broadcast partners and its own web site. So while you might get a peek of a still photo here and a news story there, you'd have to tune in, 12 hours later, to see what actually had taken place.

"A Bomb Blows Up the Entire Stage in Beijing's Olympic Stadium! Watch it on NBC Tonight at 8!"

The tape-delay practice, done away with from mainstream American sports in the early 1980s, came back with a vengeance during the 1996 Games in Atlanta, where Ebersol foisted the absurd "Plausibly Live" concept upon the unsuspecting public. Main events were shown on a delayed basis but masqueraded as live.

They became blatantly taped in the subsequent five Olympics, four staged away from U.S. soil. But with the advent of internet age, when free flow of information became readily available, NBC's ratings took a nosedive as potential viewers shunned television coverage when they already knew the results.

Even Ebersol acknowledged this fact and pledged to show more events live from Beijing this year. One way to accomplish that is to strong-arm the IOC to allow certain marquee events to be staged at 8 in the morning in China (prime time in America). Always aiming to please, of course the IOC obliged.

Michael Phelps, perhaps the headline athlete of these Games with his quest for an unprecedented eight gold medals, will have all of his finals broadcast live. NBC made sure of that.

Here's hoping Michael likes the morning swim.