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August 11, 2008

NBC responds to Olympic fakery accusations

The glow of NBC's Olympic ratings victory threatens to be sullied this morning by reports that the Beijing Olympic Committee and the network have been less-than-scrupulous in their presentation of the Summer Games.

Organizers are accused of mixing in fake CGI fireworks during Friday night's opening ceremony, while NBC is said to have added a bogus "Live" stamp to tape-delayed West Coast feed of competition coverage this weekend, and edited the "parade of nations" segment of the opening ceremony to delay the entrance of the U.S. Olympic Team.

Let's take a look at each report, along with a response from NBC Sports.

Accusation: That viewers were misled by the use of CGI fireworks during a sweeping helicopter shot leading up to Bird's Nest National Stadium. Organizers note the fireworks were there, but the footage was created in advance due to the danger of shooting live from a nearby helicopter.

NBC Response: An NBC Sports spokesperson says U.S. viewers were informed of the manipulation. Commentators Matt Lauer and Bob Costas said the fireworks were a digital effect. From the opening ceremony transcript during the fireworks in question:

Lauer: "You're looking at a cinematic device employed by Zhang Yimou here. This is actually almost animation. A footstep a second, 29 in all, to signify the 29 Olympiads."

Costas: "We said earlier that aspects of this Opening Ceremony are almost like cinema in real time. Well this is quite literally cinematic."

Analysis: Mixing real and CGI fireworks during an Olympic event is visually misleading, though NBC did try to address the issue. The question is, during a spectacular-looking shot, do the phrases "cinematic device" and "almost animation" really convey that the image wasn't real? It seems more to hint that something about it wasn't quite literal, while coming shy of saying -- in far more clear and simple terms -- "this is a digitally manufactured shot to represent what's happening right now outside the stadium." (More thoughts on this issue with additional video).

Accusation: That NBC is time stamping West Coast feeds of competition coverage with a "Live" tag even though the coverage is not live.

NBC Response: A spokesperson points out the constant "Live" tag is accompanied by twice-per-hour time stamps that inform West Coast viewers that the event was only live on the East Coast (ex. "10:05 ET").

“The audience makeup of the Olympics is very much like that of ‘American Idol’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars’ which have ‘live’ season finales presented in much the same way,” an NBC Sports spokesperson says. “You assume there’s a large amount of intelligence in the viewing audience, so when they see those twice-an-hour time stamps they’ll understand what is being presented.”

Analysis: If a sporting event's feed isn't live, a broadcaster should avoid using an omnipresent "live" tag. The best reason to have this tag on a West Coast feed (and to not put a clear "tape delayed" notice) is for the same reason some are incensed –- it gives viewers an impression of live urgency that isn't quite there. Like with the fireworks, the original complaint is mollified by the facts, to a degree: to a casual viewer the coverage shows one thing, while to somebody paying close attention, it shows something slightly less exciting.

Accusation: That NBC edited the "parade of nations" from the original order to delay the entrance of U.S. athletes.

NBC Response: An NBC Sports spokesman says the order was unchanged.

Analysis: Editing a sporting event like a reality show to save the most eagerly awaited moments for the conclusion would be an issue -- if it were true. As it is, online reports have provided no real evidence.

--- THR.com's complete Summer Games coverage ---


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