No Olympics For Us

While it’s not quite to the point of being what I’d call a “boycott,” it’s looking like the chances are extremely slim that we’re going to be watching much of this year’s Olympic coverage. We’d like to, but NBC has done a marvelous job of ensuring that we either can’t watch, or when we can, we don’t want to.

We just tried to watch some of this afternoon’s coverage. In the roughly fifteen minutes before we couldn’t take it any longer, we saw three commercial breaks, four talking heads (with audio lagging about a second behind the video feed), a bit of an interview with the first medalist from this year’s games, and eight-year-old footage from that same athlete’s first win in 2002. We listened to Bob Costas tell us that he was in Vancouver and that there were sports going on. We heard — again — about the accidental death on the luge track. We heard an interviewer ask an athlete “how he did it” after winning (um, he practiced his ass off, you idiot — why are sports interviewers always at the very bottom of the “stupid interview question” scale?).

What we didn’t see was any actual sports footage.

Oh, how I miss watching the last Summer Olympics on CBC, the Canadian network that Comcast carries locally. Their coverage was leagues better than anything NBC had: fewer inane talking heads (which can be interpreted as fewer talking heads overall or less inanity from the talking heads they had, either of which is an acceptable and correct reading); less “we’re the only country that matters” mentality; comprehensive coverage of all sorts of sports, even those that are less massively popular; and coverage that wasn’t constantly cut into with edits, updates, promises of what’s to come, and commercials (we spent one afternoon watching an entire marathon nearly commercial free, in part because we could, and in part because it was far more interesting than we’d ever realized, simply by virtue of actually being able to watch it). The realization that CBC wouldn’t be broadcasting the Olympics this year — and, further, that the Canadian network that got the contract isn’t viewable locally — was a sad one indeed.

Lately, we’ve been enjoying my new computer’s ability to watch streaming video sites like Hulu and Netflix, so I went to the NBC Olympics site to see what was available there. They’re posting a number of videos of stuff that has already happened, but prominently displayed on the main page is a live video stream (only active at particular times and for particular events, however). I click that, and am asked to tell NBC who my cable or Internet provider is. Apparently, NBC will only serve the live video to customers of certain other companies that they have contracts with. Annoying, but hey, Comcast is right near the top of the list, and we have Comcast cable, so we should be good.

After choosing Comcast, I get directed to a Comcast login page. I log in to Comcast, and they direct me back to the video stream…which tells me I’m not eligible. What? I go through the process again, and this time, work my way through until I discover that even though NBC has a contract with Comcast, and even though I’m a Comcast cable subscriber, I’m not the right kind of Comcast cable subscriber.

See, Prairie and I don’t watch a ton of TV, don’t see the need to pay ridiculous amounts of money for hundreds of channels we’ll never watch, and don’t even have a digital TV — both of our TVs are old, square, analog sets. So, there’s no reason for us to subscribe to digital cable, and we’re quite happy with our $15/month bare bones, completely basic, plug-the-cable-into-the-back-of-the-TV-set package (and honestly, we wouldn’t even bother with that if we got decent over-the-air reception with a digital receiver box, but OTA digital TV is essentially nonexistent in the Kent Valley). However, it appears that Comcast has decided that people like us don’t count, and is only sending the video streams to customers who subscribe to a digital cable package.


Out of curiosity, I took a look at Comcast’s website — and after poking around there, I think that digital cable prices might be one of the biggest arguments against upgrading our TVs until we absolutely have to (when they die, that is). Right now, we’re paying $15/month for a bare-bones package that serves us more than adequately — in fact, we only pay attention to about 7 of the 30-some channels that are part of the package, so there’s an argument to be made that even now, we’re over paying. If we were to upgrade to a digital cable package, the least expensive package available is $60 a month! Of course, what the website says is $30/month, but that’s only for the first six months. I can’t think of any reason why I’d want to quadruple what I’m currently paying so that I can have more crap that I’m not interested in piped into my home, no matter how pretty it is or how much of it has surround sound.

Further down the page, they mention a “Digital Economy Package,” apparently aimed at people like us, that actually is $30/month — but, of course, you can only get that if you also get your phone and/or internet through Comcast, which we don’t. So, once again, that’s not an option.

(Heading off counter-arguments: satellite TV isn’t an option, our apartment faces the wrong direction; and outlying the money for a HTPC/Media Center of some sort isn’t a realistic option for both budgetary reasons and that nagging little fact that we’re still using “old school” TV sets. I’ve got a very nice Sony TV set that’s only eight years old, and my parents have a Sony TV set that’s in its 30s and still working, so we may well not be upgrading our hardware for a long time to come.)

The end result of all of this? NBC can bite me, Comcast can bite me, and the Olympics — well, it’s not really their fault, but come on.

Olympics Opening Ceremony

Prairie and I have been watching the opening ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy, but…it’s after 11pm, the torch still isn’t lit, and according to news reports that give a 3-hour run time for the whole thing, it’s not over ’till midnight, which is too late for us. It’s a little frustrating — this thing’s on a tape delay, why couldn’t they have started it at seven or eight in order to get it done with at ten or eleven? Urgh.

We’ve enjoyed seeing the first two hours of the show. Mostly.

Good things: The Italians have a wonderful flair for theatrics, and some of the portions of the show have been just wonderfully bizarre. The cow ballet earlier in the show, the sun and moon balloons with the aerialists, the dance piece…all very much fun. We were also enjoying watching the parade of nations, where it was rather amazing how many of the smaller republics that just came into existence over the past few years with the fragmentation of Russia and parts of Europe have been able to send delegations to the games. Not to mention North and South Korea marching in together!

Bad things: The show was scheduled to start at 8pm, and I suppose that in theory, it did. However, from eight until nine was just blather about all the athletes, and the actual opening ceremony didn’t start until nine. Commercials, commercials, commercials! Every. Two. Minutes. Ugh…no matter what was going on, they had to break for commercials, and while they at least took advantage of the tape delay for the parade of nations, they didn’t seem to do so for the rest of the opening ceremony. I’m pretty sure that at least five to ten minutes of the presentation disappeared so that we could sit through more SUV commercials. Ugh.

And last, but definitely not least — the commentators were horrid! Here we are, watching the opening ceremonies of the biggest forum for friendly international competition, and every time they could, the commentators were bringing up every horrid, unfriendly, divisive piece of trivia they could. Italy was singled out as the third largest member of the US’s ‘Coalition of the Willing,’ Denmark’s entrance was used as an opportunity to talk about the Muslim cartoon scandal (and even worse, when the commentator couldn’t think of anything to say about Estonia, who entered directly after Denmark, he just returned to blathering about the Danish cartoons)…it was horrid. Badly done, and so incredibly inappropriate.

Hooray for the Olympics, and good luck to all the athletes from all the countries. But a big, big thumbs-down to NBC’s approach to presenting tonight’s ceremonies.

Olympic Commentary

Many, many thanks to Tim for finding this one.

Sometimes, the best part about the Olympics isn’t the events or the athletes themselves, but the commentary…

  • Weightlifting commentator: “This is Gregoriava from Bulgaria. I saw her snatch this morning during her warm up and it was amazing.”
  • Dressage commentator: “This is really a lovely horse and I speak from personal experience since I once mounted her mother.”
  • Paul Hamm, Gymnast: “I owe a lot to my parents, especially my mother and father.”
  • Boxing Analyst: “Sure there have been injuries,and even some deaths in boxing, but none of them really that serious.”
  • Softball announcer: “If history repeats itself, I should think we can expect the same thing again.”
  • Basketball analyst: “He dribbles a lot and the opposition doesn’t like it. In fact you can see it all over their faces.”
  • At the rowing medal ceremony: “Ah, isn’t that nice, the wife of the IOC president is hugging the cox of the British crew.”
  • Soccer commentator: “Julian Dicks is everywhere. It’s like they’ve got eleven Dicks on the field.”
  • Tennis commentator: “One of the reasons Andy is playing so well is that, before the final round, his wife takes out his balls and kisses them…Oh my God, what have I just said?”

Flaming down Broadway

Passing the torchI’ll expand this entry more later on tonight with pictures and such, but last night the Olympic Torch relay came through Seattle. I’d already checked the route maps provided by the Seattle Times and King 5 and seen that the route was scheduled to go within a block of my apartment at about 5:45pm! Since the walk home from work only takes about 20 minutes, I knew I’d be home in time to wander down and watch the relay come by.

Just before 5:45 I left the Shoebox and wandered down the hill to Pike Street. There were already a few other people standing on the corner of Pike and Boylston waiting for the relay to come by, and we chatted off and on for the next few mintues as we waited. Round about 6-ish or so some trucks came by handing out noisemakers for us to play with as the runner came by, so we each grabbed a few and kept waiting. And waiting. Apparently the procession wasn’t exactly keeping to schedule.

By 6:15 or so we were getting a bit chilly — though the temperature last night was in the mid-30’s, which isn’t too bad, there was a fairly constant wind that made things a bit colder — when a couple ladies came by selling t-shirts. We asked them if they knew how far along the runner was, and they said that he was still working his way through downtown Seattle! At that point, we all decided that a stop by the Rosebud to warm up sounded like a good idea, and off we went. I grabbed a table right by the street so I could keep an eye on the crowds still gathering along Pike Street to get a feel for when things were coming our way, and nursed a very nice Malibu Rum and Coke.

It was probably around 6:30 or so when we noticed that the news helicopters were now hovering almost directly overhead (side note: even when you know they’re news choppers, it’s a wee bit disconcerting to be able to look in the sky and see three hovering helicopters with spotlights trained in your general direction), and a few minutes after that people on the street started pointing down the hill. Everyone waiting in the Rosebud took that as our clue, and headed out to the street.

The next runner gets readyI hadn’t known this before, never having seen the Torch relay before, but it’s not done with one runner from start to finish through each town. Rather, they have multiple runners, each one carrying a torch for a short distance, at the end of which the flame is passed on to the next runner with their own torch for the next leg. As it turns out, they were switching runners just a block before the Pike/Broadway intersection, so I was able to get a couple shots of the new runner getting ready to go, the passing of the flame, and then the previous runner getting his congratulations. It was a pretty cool thing to be able to see — I’ll try to get my pictures up this evening.