Sep 12 2012

Missing the Spirit of the Moment

The British exhilaration over the Olympic and Para-Olympics games must have puzzled some spectators. In July they unanimously converted overnight from a grumpy and grunting “this is going to be dreadful, I’m getting out of London until it is over” kind of mood, to a state of national exhilaration which threw them back – as any event of joy or horror in recent years does –  to the constituting moment of their modern nation: the war, the Blitz, the time they stood united under the Union Jack.

Even in rebellious Scotland, a huge set of Olympic rings adorned the hillside next to the National Assembly, and welcomed the visitors flocking to the Fringe festival.

London resident American comedian David Mills predicted the change of mood when defeatism was still everywhere: “of course everyone is going to hate it. It’s the British way – hate it, hate it, hate it. Until one person, at some party, somewhere says: ‘I hate it so much, I sort of love it.’ and then that will catch on and everyone is going to LOVE to hate it and people will be rushing home from work early so they can love hating it on TV or at the pub with friends and then there will be some British success story — in whatever sport, a fresh faced British boy from a working class family or a Hackney council estate who somehow beats the odds and ascends high enough to snatch the gold in swimming or badminton or running and with the soundtrack of Coldplay swelling in the background suddenly it will flip and instead of loving to hate the Olympics everyone will suddenly LOVE to LOVE the Olympics and all over the UK Union Jacks will flutter and  people will start chanting and a nationalistic cry will rise up in unison. And that’s when I’ll really hate the Olympics…”

But nobody hated the Olympics. Foreign and local journalists alike admitted to have been taken by the jolly frenzy that has engulfed the UK by storm. London’s “greatest summer” which ended on Monday 10th September with the athletes parade seems to have made one significant difference. The Olympics and the Paralympics, despite the separation between them, were seen as one long event of athletic excellence. The interest in the Paralympics was almost as sweeping as the excitement over the first stage of the games, and disabled athletes became household names in many homes in the world. This was enabled by a combination of the marketing strategy of both Olympic committees, but also by the vast majority of world’s media taking on board the notion that the Paralympics are an exciting affair, full of stories of personal strife, courage against odds and individual excellence. It also helped that Israel did not attack Iran, no major climatic disaster hit and the news agenda was, as in most summers, rather dreary.

But not all broadcasters noticed the changing wind. Some have somehow failed to notice that the Paralympics is no longer a limping ugly sister, lagging behind the “real thing” but a world event in its own rights.

NBC made the mistake of dismissing the Paralympics and had to face a backlash they have not, in all likelihood, expected. The British media responded with rage to the fact that the network broadcasted only 4 packages of 60 minutes from the Paralympics “on one of its most obscure cable TV channels”, as The Independent newspaper described it. Disappointing coverage compared to the 150 hours broadcasted by Channel 4 in the UK, and 100 hours by Australian TV. NBC also cut the broadcast of the closing ceremony of the Paralympics in order to air a pilot for a new sit-com.

The UK newspaper Metro reported this morning that The Paralympics committee is threatening to not grant NBC broadcasting rights at the next Olympic games. A spokesperson says the committee expects NBC to “come to us and offer apologies and explanations”. In all likelihood “that’s the way we always used to do it” is not going to cut it for NBC. Sometimes even a big and established broadcaster might blink at the wrong moment and miss the fact that the times, they are changing…

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