NBC edited the London 2012 Opening Ceremonies and has caught flak for doing so because the cuts included a tribute to victims of the 7/7/2005 terrorist attacks. NBC’s response: “our programming is tailored for the U.S. audience.” Aside from the questionable public relations tact, NBC is doing nothing unusual. Deadspin summed up the situation like this:
Everywhere else in the world—including places like China and Saudi Arabia—the Olympics are considered a major international news story, worthy of coverage as such and, thus, live and as uninterrupted as possible. Comparisons include the Royal Wedding (which NBC *did* show live in its entirety) or a natural disaster like a tsunami. Our editor emeritus Will Leitch says the Olympics aren’t sports, but reality TV; he’s right, only insofar as an American perspective goes, though. We’re conditioned to think we should be fed our salad pre-tossed because that’s how we’ve always received it; NBC has taken this liberty we’ve given them and used it to craft narratives that do not actually exist and to eliminate the ones they’d rather we not see.
In their classic, cynical viewpoint, Deadspin and Leitch are right. What we see from the Olympics is filtered in a way that NBC’s producers feel will be most enjoyable to the most American viewers. What’s surprising about this is that it’s surprising — all sport consumed via media is filtered.
Sport is mediated through broadcast production (see Jarvie, 2006). The entirety of an event cannot be captured through the media and thus broadcasters select particular visual sights/angles, sounds, individual competitors, commentary, etc. Consumers tend to forget that they aren’t watching “the real thing” and are instead being provided with a perspective. Below are a few examples, some obvious, some more nuanced:
- NBC focuses its Olympic coverage on American athletes and the sports about which Americans care and our athletes are expected to do well. Primetime coverage (which is delayed) is more likely to show an American swimmer’s silver medal than the gold medal match in handball.
- Viewers on TV hear sounds of the sport that those in the stadium don’t hear (for now), some of which have been pre-recorded.
- The camera in football focuses on the quarterback. WRs are running routes and lineman are opening up holes, but the center of attention is the QB. Many believe the view of what’s actually going on is better from behind (why video games show this perspective), but television viewers prefer the view down the line of scrimmage.
- Only a small fraction of a baseball diamond is viewable at any one time. (Jeter didn’t “come out of nowhere;” he just wasn’t in frame)
- SiriusXM radio broadcasts NFL games on two channels – one with the home team’s commentators, one with the away team’s. The audio from those broadcasts will be filtered to offer the perspective most relevant to that team’s fans.
It’s not wrong for the broadcasters to filter like this. In fact, it makes watching the sports a lot more enjoyable for us at home. We want our sport viewing to be filtered, and the media does it for us. Sometimes they make mistakes, like cutting away from a soccer player just as she cheap shots her opponent; or not capturing an AFL player making a run to catch a mark; or focusing on the lead car in a NASCAR instead of the more interesting jockeying for position five cars back; or cutting out a tribute to terrorism victims that will be perceived a insensitive by just about everyone. But in general, broadcasters do a good job showing us what we want to see.
We just need to remember that we are not getting a true representation of the sport on the field. And that’s okay.