Over the past two weeks it has become almost impossible to check Twitter without hearing someone whining about the epic failure of NBC's broadcast of the Olympics.
Gripes focused on NBC showing the biggest events only in the evenings on tape-delay, and the need to still have a cable subscription to access much of the live streaming.
If the only way to judge the broadcast was the buzz on social media, where hashtags like #NBCfail got a major workout, you would conclude that NBC had a catastrophe on its hands.
You would be wrong. For all the social media criticism, the tape-delayed broadcast of the opening ceremonies drew a record audience. And since then, ratings for the evening broadcast have continued to reach levels last seen in 1976, when the Summer Games were held in Montreal and most people were lucky if they had six channels to watch.
This unqualified broadcast success seems absolutely incomprehensible to folks on Twitter. Indeed, according to PoliPulse, a social-media dashboard created by marketing firm Powell Tate, 48 percent of Twitter users were unhappy with the tape-delayed package being broadcast each night by NBC.
The disparity between NBC's social media critics and the rest of the world provides several important lessons.
The first, and most obvious, is that the loudest voices on Twitter are not representative of the real world. They remain, by and large, on the forward fringe of technology adoption
These tweeters seem to believe that because technology exists to deliver media in some way, it follows that everyone wants it that way. Not true. That's how an engineer thinks, but not necessarily the average TV viewer.
Indeed, these critics weren't even satisfied by the fact that NBC provided more live streaming and broadcast of the games than ever before. Between its mobile apps and Web streaming, and multiple cable channels, anyone with a cable TV account could have watched just about anything they wanted, whenever they wanted. But NBC's critics won't be satisfied apparently until every second is broadcast for free.
Yet outside the Twitter bubble, most people don't have the time or inclination to consume a never-ending stream of real-time media. They want someone to curate and package it for them. NBC knows this, and excels at it.
Each night, NBC takes the day's events and turns them into neatly constructed stories. It produces profiles that tell the dramatic back story of an athlete you'd never heard of, participating in a sport you'd never once thought about. They show highlights of that competition, which give you an immediate emotional payoff when you see that person succeed or fail. And then whoosh...it's on to the next thing.
Now, can some of these stories be artificial and saccharine? Sure. I've cringed at plenty. But such digestible nuggets of sport are enough for most people. They don't want to watch 10 hours of fencing and spend time Googling the name of an athlete to learn about them.
Still, the Twitter critics seems convinced that this will be the last time we'll see the Olympics broadcast this way.
Nope. While NBC (or whoever gets the rights down the road) will continue to tinker with things, I expect the status quo will hold for quite some time. Simply put, the current business arrangement is good for NBC, for the Olympics, and for advertisers.
With the increased fragmentation of media and our short-attention-span culture, where else can an advertiser reach such a large audience at once? That audience reach justifies the fees that NBC pays, which underwrite a healthy portion of the Olympics.
If viewers were deserting, this would be a different story. But clearly the vast majority are largely content with the arrangement.
No doubt, NBC will conclude that its approach is working just fine. The rest of us should understand that the march of technology does not guarantee that things can or should change.