#nbcfail: Complaints about NBC’s Olympics coverage reach new heights

NBC Live bug during Vancouver Games

“Live – NBC” Something West Coast viewers saw only briefly during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. For this year’s London games, seeing such a thing may almost be a mirage.

During the Calgary Winter Games in 1988, I remember the announcer for ABC (I want to say Jim McKay) explaining to the audience watching at home how, even though the event was live, there could be brief seconds of delay as the feed is uplinked from Canada and downlinked from orbiting satellites to local stations. I believe the point was that ABC was making was that the coverage was as live as technically possible.

Contrast that with NBC’s coverage of the London Summer Games, where they’re largely sticking with their “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you!” mantra. That motto didn’t work for summer reruns in 1997 and it doesn’t work for covering an immense, live sporting event in an age of Facebook and Twitter.

With the London Games fully underway, an old sport of sorts has taken off online — complaining about NBC’s ever-lackluster presentation of the Olympics. As this Associated Press article indicates, critics and supporters alike will point out that this isn’t a new event, but the increasing use of social networking has bolstered criticisms and underscored NBC’s relatively poor broadcasting choices.

Social networking spoils NBC’s tape-delay plans because people around the world are sharing results as they happen. Unless people go out of their way to avoid the results, the results of key competitions are known hours before NBC gets around to broadcasting them over the air.

This was an issue during the Vancouver 2010 Games, but it seems like a much bigger issue today.

I’ve never been shy to criticize NBC’s broadcasting choices, especially those that force West Coast viewers to suffer tape delays for events happening in their time zone (like during Vancouver). In the past, the complaints just seemed to peter out after a while. Not so in London, where comments are shared and added to like flames of a fire.

Thus far, people watching the London Games have taken to using the #nbcfail tag on Twitter to help express their disdain of the coverage. The complaints have been wide-ranging, but have thus far focused on the delayed Opening Ceremonies on Friday and a 7- to 11-hour delay for Saturday’s 400 IM men’s swimming final featuring Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps.

Sunday’s gripes seem to be less focused, with people carping about a bevy of events delayed into primetime and some tweeting about the reaction to #nbcfail. There’s also a Internet meme where people are jokingly tweeting about NBC’s tape-delayed coverage of historical events.

So what’s the solution? I think the Canadian model works well for a sports fan and a viewer — live coverage whenever possible and highlights when necessary. I’m not sure what current rightsholder CTV is doing, but the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation would only air highlight packages during times when live coverage wasn’t feasible … but after airing the live coverage.

Looking at NBC’s position, they did fork out the dough to air the Games, so they’re obviously in the driver’s seat about their decisions. Their arguments include the fact that they can reach a greater audience and earn more ad dollars by airing taped events in primetime. That seems to be borne out by the record ratings for the first two days of the London Games.

They’ve also made fun of the Canadian model. I remember during the Athens Games in 2004 reading about an NBC producer touting the higher American ratings than their Canadian counterparts.

NBC has also countered critics by saying all the events are streaming live online. I appreciate that effort — although I question how much of an effort it really is, considering that Olympic Broadcasting Services provides feeds of every event anyway. Still, it’s a step up from the Vancouver Games, where most events were kept offline until they aired on the Peacock.

The service was fairly comprehensive during the Beijing Games, but I’m shut out this time — people need to prove they’re paying for an expanded cable or satellite subscription before they can get access. People with rabbit ears on their televisions are shut out.

One final point about NBC that people rarely seem to consider is the fact that NBC isn’t a monolithic network — they have to keep their local affiliates happy. I have no doubt that local stations’ desires to garner the largest audiences is also a factor in NBC’s scheduling. That’s also why I believe local news and key syndicated shows are still shown, despite the huge amount of Olympics events available.

It’s hard to say what the ultimate impact of #NBCfail will be. For now, the ratings tend to support NBC’s decisions regarding the tape-delayed experience they offer television viewers. However, perhaps #NBCfail will continue to point out that this should be a golden era of sports broadcasting and that a significant number of people are aware of better, live offerings than what NBC is serving up.

Opening Ceremonies concerns: While I’m still making my way through an over-stuffed Opening Ceremonies, I have to ding NBC Olympics for its decision to air ads instead of showing the Olympic Oaths (prior to the caldron lighting). Amid all of the symbolism of the Opening Ceremonies, having athletes, coaches and officials swear to the true spirit of sportsmanship is a huge one.

The Age of Australia identified the oath takers as UK taewondo athlete Sarah Stevenson, boxing referee Mik Basi for officials and canoeing coach Eric Farrell.

Also, according to the International Olympic Committee’s guide to Opening Ceremonies (PDF), every ceremony is to include 11 elements. The oaths are three of the elements. NBC should have made time for at least the athletes’ oath.

For the record, the oath for athletes is — “In the name of all competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.”

The network was also criticized for airing a pretaped interview instead of showing a portion of the ceremonies commemorating victims of terrorism (particularly the July 7, 2005, attacks in London).

Taco Bell’s bland Cantina Bowl a ‘wretched hive of scum and villainy’

Taco Bell sign

FILE-This Wednesday, June 6, 2012, file photo shows a Taco Bell restaurant in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

When I hear the word “Cantina,” I often think back to the Mos Eisley cantina scene in “Star Wars.” In the case of Taco Bell’s new Cantina Bell™ menu, the comparison is apt because I also think of Obi-Wan Kenobi describing the town of Mos Eisley as a “wretched hive of scum and villainy” (it’s the town’s motto!).

That’s the most positive endorsement I can give Taco Bell’s newest offering. Instead of trading on a snacky gimmick like the Doritos Locos Taco and its nacho cheese encrusted shell, Taco Bell appears to try something new … and fails miserably.

Up front, I will grant that we shouldn’t necessarily expect greatness from a fast-food menu — although the food should at least be somewhat enjoyable. And, unlike Taco Bell’s previous effort to add Fritos to burritos and Kentucky Fried Chicken’s effort to throw everything in a bowl and call it “Famous,” at least Taco Bell appears to make an effort for a more gourmet offering. Unfortunately, my expectations of the Cantina Bowl were buoyed by Taco Bell’s descriptions and they were ultimately and utterly dashed by the final, underwhelming product. The Cantina Bowl is neither enjoyable to eat nor very flavorful.

Taco Bell says the Cantina Bowl contains “citrus-herb marinated chicken [or steak or veggies], flavorful black beans, guacamole made from real Hass avocados, roasted corn and pepper salsa, a creamy cilantro dressing, and freshly prepared pico de gallo, all served on a bed of cilantro rice.” Based on the description and photos, it sounds like something you might get from Chipotle (except if you didn’t have much say on the ingredients).

It would seem like there are a lot of flavors on that list — if only calling something flavorful would make it so. Unfortunately, the flavors never blended into a delicious melange. The end result was so bland, I was rushing for the Fire Sauce to make it palatable.

If the ingredients in the dish didn’t mesh well together, one may hope for some individual elements to stand out. Unfortunately, I opted for the “steak” instead of the chicken and it seemed like the only thing to stand out (and not for the right reasons).

After a few bites, it tasted like I was digging into the meat from a frozen dinner (specifically, the Marie Callender’s Old Fashioned Beef Pot Roast). Unfortunately, the frozen meal provides a better experience at about $3 than the bowl at $7 (including drink).

The similarities were uncanny — the chunks of beef in the bowl had a similar grain and texture and the gravy/sauce was practically identical. It is similar to the steak that Taco Bell uses in its regular burritos, but its flaws stood out more here because it could be isolated from other ingredients.

The rice merely reflected what little other flavors were in the bowl while contributing nothing more than the texture of watery grains to the dish. Again, this is very similar to the rice from a frozen dinner.

As I ate through the bowl, I pondered The Onion’s joking take on the five ingredients in the Taco Bell kitchen. Basically, the joke is that Taco Bell just remixes the same five or so ingredients and calls it something new. In the case of the Cantina Bowl, I believe they added some new items (like the corn salsa), but other ingredients — like rice, lettuce, steak and tomatoes — seemed like the same ones that Taco Bell uses in its everyday tacos and burritos. That’s a problem because the taste expectations were much higher for the bowl and entire Cantina Menu than the regular menu where we know what we’re getting … for better or worse.

The apparent use of stock ingredients plays into the presentation — it looked nothing like the promo photos (but what does?). It looked hastily assembled at the eatery at the Chico Mall and the plain ol’ ingredients were easily discernable. The photos and review from Brand Eating provide some good context.

The lettuce was the same light green shred that you might see in the chain’s tacos and just as paper-y bland. Most of the sauces and salsas glooped up into the lettuce, which could have been an opportunity to get enjoy the sauces on their own merits. Unfortunately, the only sauce that stood out was the creamy cilantro dressing. It had a thin consistency, but had added a little tang of flavor.

I couldn’t really get a taste of the guacamole. The corn salsa and “flavorful” beans added little more than the texture of corn kernels and tiny, firm black beans.

I prefer Mexican food (or Taco Bell’s version of it) to have some spice, but the Cantina Bowl had no heat at all. Reviewing the list of ingredients, there are only a few items that could really contribute spice (perhaps the salsas, the cilantro dressing and the beef) and they failed to deliver.

Adding the Fire Sauce helped perk things up, but it was still a slog getting through the rest of the meal and I was happy when it was done. I probably should’ve stopped eating it, but that’s a habit I need to get back into.

I must give Taco Bell some credit for trying something new to try to compete in a space normally held by Chipotle and similar restaurants. I also liked that they touted that if you don’t like it you can return it for something else (which really should be standard customer service, but is still appreciated).

I was so disappointed by this underwhelming offering that I strongly considered taking Taco Bell up on its offer for a new dish, but I was in a hurry that night (and I wasn’t in the mood for more food).

Ultimately, like the Mos Eisley cantina, Taco Bell’s Cantina Bowl is something that people should probably avoid.

Bottom line — Stay away from this uninspiring, flavorless Cantina Menu offering from Taco Bell that just never comes together. Although it may appear to be fresher and more “gourmet” than other offerings on the restaurant’s menu, appearances may be deceiving and more costly.