Sunday, May 22, 2011

So Long, Dick E.

Last week Dick Ebersol resigned from NBC Sports, where he championed the network's signature style for presenting the Olympics. Though this is a big change for NBC, the IOC and the Olympic Movement, this is, to me, a change for the better.

The change also provides a real opportunity for the next Olympic broadcast producer to right things that NBC skewed a bit in the last 20 or so years of five-ringed telecasts.

I'm not a fan of NBC's "storytelling" method for showcasing the "Olympic drama" -- though it was an interesting approach that I first noticed during a Barcelona 1992 Olympic segment regarding the surviving family members of the 1972 Munich Olympic terrorist attack, to me the NBC/Ebersol presentations of the Games jumped the shark with the over-the-top broadcast of Kerri Strug and her stuck landing in Atlanta Olympic gymnastics competition.

Why does the NBC style bother me?

During the Atlanta Olympics, some Olympic Village colleagues and I learned about the IOC's live feeds that provide commercial and commentary-free channels of all warm-ups and competitions in progress. It is possible, in the Olympic Village and other Olympic venues, to view the "gymnastics channel" or "tennis channel" or any other Olympic sport channel courtesy of multiple camera positions inside each venue, broadcast via the International Broadcast Center (IBC).

While most of America was watching/listening/enduring John Tesh nearly soiling himself over Kerri Strug's Olympic feat, I was watching the same drama unfold with commentary-free comfort of the Olympic Village. The drama was just the same -- perhaps more so -- as we also got to see athletes compete who were ignored by NBC.

Once you've viewed the Olympics in this commentary/commercial-free format, there is no topping it (unless, of course, you have a ticket to an Olympic event and view it live and in person).

To me, NBC continuously misses the boat by adding over-the-top commentary and "storytelling" to the mix. The Olympic "drama" of the world's best athletes is all the drama one needs -- viewers don't need Tesh droning on and on with faux-expertise.

To his credit, I do usually enjoy Bob Costas' informed perspective on competition, and select sports commentators also bring some interesting flavor to the mix. Also, to Ebersol's credit, he did take the Olympic viewer experience to a new plane, and the Olympic Order bestowed upon him is deserved. The Olympic Movement is better for all of Ebersol's creativity, leadership and contributions.

I just wish NBC would cut back on the storytelling and showcase a broader international mix of the real drama of global competition. People will watch it with as much, if not more, interest, in my opinion.

No matter which network picks up the U.S. Olympic broadcasting rights for Sochi 2014 and Rio de Janiero 2016 in a few weeks, when the IOC determines the Games broadcaster of the two post-London 2012 Olympiads, I hope they will seize this post-Ebersol opportunity to assess the IOC commentary-free format and consider a sport-by-channel offering that will let the viewer determine for themselves the "drama" unfolding on screen.

Could be a real treat for viewers to enjoy IOC-pure format (with all the new technology at everyone's fingertips, why not empower viewers with on-screen options to learn more about ALL of the athletes in the competition rather than only the Americans?).

Chicago Tribune Olympic reporter Philip Hersh also poses some interesting questions about Ebersol worth a read at the Globetrotting blog.

It will be interesting to see where Ebersol turns up next in Olympic circles.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Olympic Headlines

Just read a couple of inspiring Olympian stories from recent news reports: reports on 1948 Olympic bronze medalist Herb Johnson delivered an inspiring commencement address; hope to see him return to London next summer! The Houston Chronicle showcases a speedskater to watch in the lead-up to Sochi 2014. Also a great read, Chicago Tribune international sports columnist Philip Hersh's update regarding IOC President Jacques Rogge's delayed reaction to Osama bin Laden's death. Happy reading on this happy Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Blog Post Yet Cajoled

The Atlanta Film Festival is underway. Until this week, my last visit to the Festival was a few years back (to see one of the all-time greats, "American Splendor.")

One title in the 2011 Atlanta Film Festival included an Olympic theme, while I also found several other documentary films of interest, starting with the wonderfully funny "POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold."

More on this tall drink of a movie later in this post.

But first, the Olympic connection: "Beijing Taxi" is a new documentary shadowing three cabbies in China during the months (or even years) leading up to the 2008 Olympic Games. I went into the screening (with thanks to the AFF for the blogger tickets) anticipating a trip down memory lane and up the labyrinth of highways and side streets experienced in taxis during my month in Beijing three summers ago.

"Beijing Taxi" did deliver in terms of memory lane. You can almost tasted the grit and smog during some of the in-taxi interviews across the city. If you've been to Beijing you'll recognize the Ring Roads and towering new buildings juxtaposed with ancient neighborhood dwellings. It was refreshing to see some of the countryside the drivers enjoyed in their leisure time, and to gain a fresh perspective on reality faced by the taxi drivers we encountered in 2008.

For those who did not yet experience Beijing, this film does provide a decent slice of life for the recent Olympic city during its pre-Games prep. Watching the film, though, I realized that for at least two of the three profiled drivers, it was a bummer of a tale as they managed health issues, family dramas, entrepreneurial dreams sans support structure to bring them to fruition, unemployment, corruption and terrible car trouble (I've experienced car trouble, but nothing compared to what being stranded on an eight-lane superhighway in a stalled Beijing taxi).

One other highlight of "Beijing Taxi" is the film's portrayal of the Olympic hype, and how at least one of the drivers felt duped by the Olympic machine. In spite of strong anti-Games feedback, she was strangely drawn to one of the official Beijing Olympic theme songs. I wondered what Travis Bickle (who also showed up at AFF) or cabbies of one popular show might have to say about the theme.

Speaking of hype, I was taken hook, line and sinker by the previews for "POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" (it was a huge bummer when this film did not open in ATL as in other markets two weeks ago, and a big relief to find it on the AFF schedule in advance of wider release).

Morgan Spurlock nailed it with his exploration of paid product placement. I can't write here my favorite line of the film (as it involves a client of the communications agency where I work), but I can write that Spurlock left out an obvious pun for the official gas station beverage cups, which is my suggestion: "This Sheetz's for Reel!"

Four words: Go see this movie. Then talk about it with your friends. It's a good one to discuss and think about while developing a critical eye for product placement.

Is POM Wonderful still sponsoring blogs?

One film screened at the AFF that is worthy of a "pass" is the documentary "Miss Representation."

While I agree with the messages the film seeks to present, and concur that women in the media are not treated fairly nor with respect in a male-dominated industry and world, and I side with some of the points made by Geena Davis, Margaret Cho and even the creator of "Miss Information" Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the topic presented was nothing new, and it was presented in an uncompelling manner.

People should be talking about the topics in this film, mind you, but there are other sources of similar information presented in a better way elsewhere.

The film got off to a slow start and showed promise, but the jumping of the shark was the reveal of a new movement created by Siebel Newsom, leaving me with the question "why not drive viewers to give financial support to existing, meaningful and successful women's organizations portrayed in the film in lieu of creating another expensive-to-operate nonprofit?"

If the filmmakers are so passionate about this movement, why have they posted no discussions on their blog since March? Where is the momentum? Who is driving it? Five blog posts and give up? C'mon?!

Sidebar: If you want to see a film on the topics of "Miss Representation" done with some punch, and a film that touches on some of the marketing topics covered by "POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" then check out the 1991 documentary "Dreamworlds" and its sequels by creator Sut Jhally (who, strangely, was not reference by either of the recent films ... were the current documentary filmmakers doing homework on their topics, and did they know of Jhally, I wonder ...)

There were plenty of other films at the AFF that caught my eye -- it was disappointing to miss "Page One" due to a work deadline, and tonight's screening of "Africa United" looked interesting.
Will look forward to the 2012 Atlanta Film Festival when it arrives next spring.

Photos via the "Beijing Taxi" website and this site which cites AP/Victoria Will

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