Image by: Anton Hazewinkel

When NBC/MSN first laid out their plans to webcast 2,200 live hours of Olympics coverage, I was happy. I envisioned watching the badminton quarterfinals at four in the morning and catching the marquee events, on the sly, from my desk at work. It hasn’t exactly panned out that way.

While early-morning fringe-sport watching is definitely doable, an idea like that always sounds better than it is. As for the marquee events, NBC has kept those locked up on the television screen.

The network presented Phelps Mania live on TV in the Chinese morning/East Coast primetime, but chose the mind-boggling strategy of forgoing any form of live coverage of track-and-field glamor events like the 100m and 200m.  Instead, NBC showed them on tape delay in primetime, 12 hours after they happened.

Luckily, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt has made that inexplicable blunder largely irrelevant.

Even though I knew NBC’s policy, I still found myself on their homepage at 10:20 AM yesterday hoping they’d relent and show the men’s 200m final. Of course, they didn’t.  A few minutes later, I found out via the New York Times that Bolt had indeed made history. A little while later I found some web video of the event. But the race seemed so epic that I still tuned into NBC at night.

And I was not disappointed. It’s a whole different dimension seeing Bolt on a big(ger) screen, watching him explode past the bend and leave seven other world-class sprinters in the dust, hearing the announcers screaming that it’s the greatest performance in the history of track-and-field.

If this were just a normal 200m final, though, I wouldn’t have bothered. I’m not a die-hard track-and-field fan. I just want to see some live drama or something that’s never been done before. So, on a 12-hour tape delay, if nobody’s setting any world records, I’ll find something better to do.

Hopefully, NBC will get the message in time for London 2012. By some metrics, Yahoo has beat NBC in the online race and ESPN is already talking about how much better they’d do at covering the Olympics in 2016. As ESPN’s executive vp of content John Skipper notes, tape delay is not in their “DNA.”

For 2008, though, NBC got lucky. Dailymotion, YouTube and DingTV simply can’t do Bolt’s achievements justice, even if their coverage is quicker out of the blocks.

Image by: Anton Hazewinkel

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