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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

What NBC talked about opening night, and what it didn’t

Erin Hamlin carries the flag of the United States during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (Michael Sohn / Associated Press)
By David Bauder Associated Press

NEW YORK – Highlights from media coverage of the Pyeongchang Olympics:

INTRO: The Sterling K. Brown-narrated film that opened NBC’s coverage of the opening ceremony was lovely, and an inspired explanation of why you should spend the next two weeks watching people you don’t know competing in sports you don’t understand.

NO COMMENT: Two-time Olympic speedskating champion Shani Davis’ anger at losing a coin toss to determine the flag bearer for the United States, and his decision not to attend the opening ceremony, was an important story. So it was a serious omission for NBC not to talk about it, especially when cameras were trained on luger Erin Hamlin as she led the team into the stadium. Similarly, Vice President Mike Pence’s behavior as a spectator – sitting as others rose around him at the entrance of North and South Korean athletes into the stadium and his apparent lack of interaction with a North Korean delegation located near him – was a news story that went unmentioned. The politics involved made both sensitive stories. Punting was the wrong choice.

KEEP TALKING: Yes, it sometimes felt like Mike Tirico and Katie Couric didn’t want to leave out anything in their briefing books. But most of their narration greatly enhanced understanding of the ceremony and the Olympics themselves. The moment where Pita Taufatofua of Tonga entered shirtless in the subfreezing temperature, just as he did on a much warmer night in Rio de Janeiro two years ago at the Summer Olympics, was priceless, and so was the knowledge that he qualified as a cross-country skier despite having seen snow only once before. Two times silence would have been golden: when analyst Joshua Cooper Ramo felt he had to explain a song instead of listening to it, and the egregious promotion of an upcoming show Couric is doing for another network.

TWEET OF THE NIGHT: “I’m starting to think (hashtag)NBC stands for `nothing but chatter.“’

VONN AND WHITE: We get that Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White are two of the biggest stars heading into the games, but even Tirico seemed to get sick of NBC flashing pictures of them. “There’s Lindsey one more time,” he said. “Getting some major camera time and not shy about it.” She doesn’t own the cameras, Mike.

NO TELL: The most spectacular moment of opening night had to have been the drone formation in the shapes of a snowboarder and the Olympic rings. Yet it felt cheapened when a technology company immediately bragged about it in a commercial. It also didn’t really happen, at least not during the opening ceremony. The International Olympic Committee said the drone segment was scrapped because of an “impromptu logistical change.” The version used in the NBC broadcast was a pre-recorded rehearsal from December.

OPENER: For those who wanted to enjoy the opening ceremony without commentary, they had their chance earlier when NBC streamed it live online when it started at 6 a.m. ET in the United States. It was a minimalist experience, with full audio and pictures, but no announcers. If you wanted to know who was carrying the flag for Australia, or what a particular scene was meant to symbolize, your guess was as good as anyone else’s. Some shots needed no narration, like the excitement on the faces of North and South Korean athletes marching in as a unified team.

RATINGS: An estimated 16 million people watched NBC’s coverage of the first night of the Olympics, down 20 percent from the 20 million who watched the first night in Sochi in 2014. NBC said a total of 17.2 million experienced the Olympics if viewers of the NBCSN cable network and digital users were added in, which would make the decrease 14 percent. Four years ago, NBC didn’t offer cable coverage or live streaming to compete with the network’s prime-time coverage. Peak viewership came during Nathan Chen’s skate during the team competition.

WALKIE-TALKIE: Surfing the Olympics website turned up a priceless video of Olympic officials trying to retrieve a dropped walkie-talkie that was sliding down a ski slope. It took three tries for a man on skis to stop it, all captured for posterity in slow motion.