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From Sports Business Daily
Writers Weigh In On NBC's Wimbledon Dilemma, Potential Fixes
By Erik Swanson, Staff Writer
Following the much-publicized backlash against NBC's tape-delayed coverage of Wimbledon last week, THE DAILY asks several media writers about the future of the network's coverage of the event, specifically how NBC should balance the interest of "Today" with Wimbledon coverage given the time difference and whether viewer reaction from last week will lead to significant changes in the future.
TAPE-DELAY ANTIQUATED: Writers were united in their dissatisfaction with the use of taped coverage. The Dallas Morning News' Barry Horn said, "This is 2009, there is no longer a place in this TV sports world for 'taped' coverage when there are so many networks in the NBC universe." SI.com's Jon Wertheim said, "In 2009, tape-delay is simply untenable." The Washington Times' Tim Lemke: "In this day and age, no one has much tolerance for taped broadcasts because the Internet has made it impossible to keep results a secret. I think going forward, most networks will recognize that they must show events live, regardless of when they happen." SI.com's Richard Deitsch: "What was particularly infuriating to me as a viewer was NBC’s decision not to join the Andy Murray-Andy Roddick semifinal in progress. That’s what rankles viewers, when a decision is made that counters the realities of an Internet age." The San Diego Union-Tribune's Jay Posner said, "I don't think NBC is in an easy position, given the success of 'Today,' but in this age of 24/7 access and hundreds of TV channels, why should sports fans pay the price? Something must be done to balance the company's need for profit against the needs of fans. That's why I've always said the first week is the best week to watch Wimbledon, before NBC comes along and messes it up for everyone."
CABLE CAR: Deitsch said NBC "needs to cede its weekday coverage to cable." Deitsch: "It's time to rework such antiquated contracts so ESPN or a combination of ESPN and The Tennis Channel can broadcast both semifinals live." Lemke agreed that cable should host weekday Wimbledon coverage, saying he believes moving forward there will be "less of a stigma attached to moving major events to cable." Lemke: "I question the need for weekday matches to be shown on over-the-air television in the first place. At this point in time, there is nothing wrong with having matches on other NBC Universal channels, such as USA, Bravo, Universal Sports or even one of their cable news networks. They did it with the Olympics and they can do it with tennis." Horn notes NBC "needs to step and go live with Wimbledon during the week or at least make sure the matches go to MSNBC or USA or ESPN." Horn: "It's really a no-brainer." Wertheim: "It's a complicated, unfortunate situation and you wish tennis had fixed starting times, which would obviate a lot of this. But you'd also like to think that between the various other U.S. networks on site (ESPN and Tennis Channel) and the various platforms of NBC Universal there would be SOME way to show live tennis."
COLLATERAL DAMAGE: Lemke indicated if NBC "wants an exclusive window, but can't show a match live when it starts, it should not prevent another network from doing so." Lemke: "There's nothing wrong with having ESPN2 pick up live coverage when a match begins and handing it off to NBC. And NBC could always hand a match back to ESPN2 when their coverage window ends. As long as viewers are informed of where they can find the matches, that's fine." Wertheim: "Seems to me no one is served by the current policy. NBC generates ill will and sees viewers getting siphoned by digital platforms. Wimbledon loses prestige when some its most prominent matches don't air live in the largest market. ESPN suffers some collateral damage."
CAN VIEWERS EXPECT CHANGE? When asked if the viewer reaction to NBC's taped coverage will lead to significant changes in the future for coverage of major events, Deitsch said, "With the dollars the network is paying for the Olympics, I think they’ll continue to show the highest-rated events in prime-time (and tape-delayed when the Olympic schedule makes its so). As for tennis, both the French Open and Wimbledon are catering to European audiences first and foremost and match start times at both events are all over the place. Ultimately, I predict that NBC will cede the weekday tennis coverage to another outlet, but I’m not sure when that day will come." Lemke believes networks over time "will find that live broadcasts are more lucrative than taped ones, no matter when they air." Lemke: "What we may see is broadcasters having more influence on when events start. A great example of this is when NBC got the Beijing Olympics to move the swimming events to the morning in China to allow for prime time broadcasts in the United States." Wertheim said, "At some point I suspect the All England Club -- unique among sports properties in its tendency to care more about image and tradition than revenue -- might say to NBC, 'If you're not going to show matches live, don't bother submitting a bid!'" But the Houston Chronicle's David Barron said, "I would not expect to see any significant changes until the next contract cycle. Uncertainty strikes me as the enemy of innovation, and we seem to be hip-deep in uncertainty these days." Posner noted the situation is "particularly onerous on the West Coast" due to the time difference. Posner: "I think the solution is obvious: If NBC can't or won't show a match live in all time zones, it should just give up its rights to that match. Of course, I expect to see that happen about the same time I'm able to see the Olympics live on NBC. Since it's no longer just the West Coast complaining, I believe the network will feel pressure to take some sort of action. But I can't say I expect to see 'significant changes' any time soon."