Watching the Olympics Outside the US

Categories: Watching TV

Written By

August 25th, 2008

I'm just back from Italy where I spent the entire 2008 Olympics. Our hotel system had TV networks from all over, but I primarily watched live events on British (BBC), German (EuroSport, others) and Italian (RAI) networks and commentary/studio broadcasts exclusively on the BBC because my Italian and German isn't nearly good enough for extended commentary to be interesting.  Here are a few random thoughts on watching Olympics telecasts for the first time outside the US:

  • The BBC had taped events in the evening each day, but also broadcast those same events live during the day unlike, as I have read, NBC holding certain events for tape delay only. The German and Italian networks seemed to be much more substantially live, but my impressions may be colored by the fact that I rarely stayed on those networks if they weren't on a live event.
  • Like NBCU's networks, the BBC had multiple channels broadcasting live events throughout the day. Our hotel's system didn't have the ability to access those broadcasts though so I didn't watch them.
  • US networks are often criticized for being "homers" and focusing just on US athletes and the events they do well in. Other countries are just as bad. The only "non-local" story that got any significant coverage on the networks was Michael Phelps, and it was pretty brief (compared to NBC, which I understand was a Phelps-o-rama). Watching the BBC, you'd think that the Olympics was primarily women's swimming, rowing, yachting, cycling with a little equestrian and athletics thrown in. The German and Italian networks were equally focused on their teams best events.
  • As expected, the production budgets of the other networks were a fraction of NBC's. The BBC looked pretty good, but I'm sure the NBCU staff outnumbered them 10:1. The German and Italian broadcast teams seemed much smaller, but again I didn't watch much non-live action.
  • Nothing to do with television, but every single medal count list I saw on air or in print via the media of non-US countries while traveling had the countries ordered by the number of gold medals and not total medals. Subtle anti-US bias? You be the judge. Update edit: As commenters pointed out, and I have added in the comments, no bias seems evident based on past practices.


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