Shooting all the action in high definition for the first time, NBC plans to nearly double the 417 hours they aired from the Torino Games in 2006. Much of this coverage will air on cable outlets CNBC, USA, and MSNBC, which are devoting a lot of time to live curling and hockey coverage.
Unfortunately, the first few days of the Games have made clear that hockey fans are getting the short end of this stick.
Tuesday was the first day of the men's hockey tournament. The United States-Switzerland game aired flawlessly on USA Network, but there was a problem with the next game on the schedule.
A U.S. women's curling match on CNBC ran long, forcing NBC Universal to move the start of Canada's men's hockey opener against Norway to MSNBC. Of course, they had to wait to join the game until MSNBC's coverage of the women's game between Russia and the United States (a 13-0 Team USA win) ended. It was close to eight minutes in before the game was on the air.
Worse yet, for a large portion of the MSNBC audience, the game wasn't available in high definition, because MSNBC is still growing its HD distribution, believed to be only around 11 million as of last summer.
NBCU wasn't done messing this game up. At 7:58 p.m. ET, MSNBC cut out of the game to run a commercial break, and then they went to their prime-time news-talk programming, led by Keith Olbermann. CNBC was out of curling by this time, but instead of getting right to the hockey game, they ran between four and five minutes of commercials and promos before joining the hockey game in progress.
Fans who don't get MSNBC were left in the dark for quite a while, because the game didn't get to CNBC until the final minutes of the first period.
But at least it was in HD for a larger portion of the audience!
The cycle repeated itself Thursday, as curling on CNBC again ran late, and again they were forced to drop the hockey game into the lap of MSNBC.
Instead of providing the Olympic men's hockey tournament with a solid, highly-visible cable platform with which it can shine, NBC seems to prefer to give this kind of consistent platform to ... curling.
While hockey games are bouncing from network to network, in and out of HD for most viewers, and sometimes not even starting on time, a sport that barely enters the American consciousness once every four years takes precedence over what could be the biggest hockey tournament the world has ever seen.
This is not meant as a knock on curling, nor is it meant as any criticism of the people working in front of the cameras. Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Pierre McGuire, Bill Patrick, Jeremy Roenick and Mike Milbury have done great work so far, and they will do more as the tournament goes on.
If you think the slights of the Canada-Norway and Sweden-Germany games were bad, just wait until Sunday evening. The United States gets their shot at the favored and hosting Canadians. It has been eagerly anticipated by hockey fans since the schedule was released for the Games. It could be one of the best games of the tournament, and it has been relegated to MSNBC.
Maybe fans should just be grateful that it will start on time.
Makes no sense. Of course, with NBC losing upwards of $250 million on these Games, it doesn't make any "cents," either.