London Calling

3 07 2012

I remember watching the 1968 Summer Olympics that were hosted by Mexico City. My family and I would gather around the 19″ black-and-white television in the basement den my parents had built. That Olympiad is remembered today for the Black Power salute, which at the time came amid much racial strife here in the States. The reception was fuzzy at best, yet I marveled at the notion of being able to watch coverage that originated all…the…way…down in Mexico.

Go ahead and give a bored-to-tears 21C slow clap.

Last year, I was fortunate to visit London with two colleagues and a couple of dozen students. We were treated to tours of the Olympic village, and got to see first hand how $16 billion can be used to host what amounts to the world’s largest sporting event. In a few short weeks, the entire world will be watching the Summer Olympics, not on miserable little black-and-white televisions, but state-of-the-art flat panels.

And mobile apps and online..

NBC, the Official Broadcaster of the Olympics (or whatever their title is), is pushing 3500 hours of live streaming video to a special website as well as mobile apps. Which is another way of saying that NBC is making sure we’ll be able to watch from wherever.

Dang. Too bad they don’t have curling in the Summer Olympics. I’d be all over that.

But NBC is also adding a huge social component to its coverage, which has both positive and negative implications. As we all know, using social media is the fastest way to attract bees to honey. Their admission of turning this into a Twitter Olympics says that NBC is committed to putting international athletics into the hands of everyone.

But it also says that NBC really does not understand social media, because these things can get out of hand. When Alan Wurtzel said, “…and we’re going to spend a lot of time trying to understand how people are connecting with each other, and what it means,” he was really saying, “We have no idea what’s going to happen here, but we think it could be big.”

Yeah, like inviting matches to a refinery.

NBC had better tread carefully, because Twitter is the internet’s loose cannon. Lowe’s learned this the hard way last December when it canceled its ads on TLC’s All-American Muslim,” and Twitterers created the #loweshatesmuslims hashtag. The same thing happened after Susan G. Komen made its bonehead move earlier this year. Oh, and when McDonald’s put its own hashtag on the griddle and served it between two buns.

Einsteins, all of them.

As long as NBC social media managers monitor things, they might be able to utilize social media for its strengths. But if Twitter users around the world unite for a gigantic bitchfest over who won or lost the gold, it’s a riot waiting to happen. And faster than Usain Bolt can run the hundred meter.

While I praise NBC for pushing the limits this year, I have to say a silent prayer for them. This one could be tricky.

Kinda makes watching it in black-and-white sound like a pretty good proposition after all.

Dr “Medal Head” Gerlich


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