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NBC's Big Olympics Deal: Armchair Play-by-Play

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"I've been getting that kind of information by e-mailing and talking on the phone to friends on the team, coaches, a lot of journalists there covering for the horse publications. It's definitely not the same as being there, just because every course is different. It's not like a tennis court or a basketball court or a pool, which never changes dimensions. So it's definitely a challenge. It's the same way in the show jumping. Fortunately, people have been great in getting back to me, so I'm getting the information I need."

It's difficult to truly fathom why NBC is leaving so many broadcasters behind. A network spokesman recently told the Chicago Tribune that it was "part of a mandate from the IOC to reduce the strain on the host city by bringing fewer people."

In a nation of 1.3 billion, in a city of 17 million already teeming with thousands of athletes, tourists and international journalists, it's difficult to imagine how a few more announcers working out of Beijing's massive Olympic broadcast center -- or perhaps other facilities nearby -- could possibly make much of a difference.

NBC "told me with the Olympics getting so large, it was difficult to get credentials for everyone," Smith-Taylor said. "And I'm sure it's the cost, too."

Still, you'd also think that NBC's $894 million rights fee payment surely would entitle the network to any credential it felt was necessary to get the job done. And with NBC announcing last week that ad sales already have exceeded the $1 billion mark, it's hard to believe that a few more broadcasters and technicians in China could possibly cut into NBC and parent company General Electric's handsome Olympic profits.

Not having all those broadcasters on site actually smacks of cheating viewers who are actually seeing the same pictures from the world feed the broadcasters are talking over in New York. It's roughly akin to a sports columnist writing about a Redskins road game from his living room, a practice that is generally frowned up in the print media, though sadly, it now also happens far too often as newspapers keep slicing bodies and travel budgets.

NBC's far away announcers also are hamstrung by not being able to do any interviews with the athletes from New York. Essentially, they're at the mercy of a world feed that goes out to every country around the world, and certainly is not American-centric, another shortcoming.

Smith-Taylor wanted no part of even suggesting viewers are not getting NBC's best shot with the events being handled from 30 Rock. Many of those sports being covered from New York have never gotten much or any play on NBC's prime time or weekend network coverage, she pointed out. And now they're getting more television exposure than ever before, even if the announcers aren't there up close and personal.

"I was hugely disappointed not to go," Smith-Taylor said. "But I'm not a professional broadcaster. I love the sport, I love being able to share the information I have and I really love being involved in the whole Olympic movement. I'm very happy to be a part of it, even if we're not there."

Leonard Shapiro can be reached at Len.Shapiro@washingtonpost.com.


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