Note: There is an add at the end about how I am now able to watch the BBC abroad.
So you had to change channel during one of Andy Murray’s matches? Sorry to hear about that. That’s really vegan cheese.
Brits complaining about the BBC coverage of the Olympics should try watching them on NBC. It’s easy in the UK to get involved in the unfolding cavalcade of colour, excitement and drama that unfolds across several channels.
Our TV subscription entitles us to watch the main NBC prime time channel. We can’t watch the BBC because we are not in the UK. There is an option for subscribers to find some live coverage online but that hasn’t worked out for me.
The NBC prime time Rio show runs for four hours each evening but it’s a kind of unfolding car crash of all the worst aspects of old-style TV. It is virtually unwatchable.
First there are the adverts, which happen with incredible frequency and repetition. It’s virtually the same five ads all the time. We have “Real People. Not Actors” swooning over “Awesome” Chevys; America Runs on Dunkin, Gold-themed insurance ads “People ask me what it’s like to win an Olympic gold medal. I tell them, if you own an insurable consumer item you already know.”
Then there is Coke’s “Gold Feeling’ campaign which encourages viewers to text about experiences that equate to winning a gold medal. It doesn’t seem to have caught fire exactly. I just checked and the top tweet was “last thing any of these athletes need is your shitty unhealthy product #That’sGold”.
Then there is Procter and Gamble’s schmaltzy “Thanks Mom” featuring Olympic athletes as children opening their school lunchboxes and smiling with delight to find loving notes pinned to their contents. Is that what Moms are supposed to do now? Yuk. Vomit. I protest. This constant focus on Olympic mothers, however, has made me think there should be a mother’s race at the end of Rio. I reckon Judy Murray would have it sewn up. And I bet her boys made their own lunches.
Then there is the show itself which appears to be viewed less as a great, live sporting contest than an opportunity to make people watch adverts.
Although the Rio time zone is close to the US, they don’t show events as they happen. Instead, things that people may actually want to see such as the women’s gymnastics are pushed to the end of the show, so you have already heard on social media who won anyway, and you have to sit through hours of crap to see it.
They are also really static. They don’t zip about as the BBC do, trying to give an overview of the event, the big moments, the triumphs and disasters. For three nights running, we were at the poolside watching swimming heats. Even when there was nothing going on in the pool, we saw swimmers jogging on the spot in tracksuits. Inordinate amounts of time was given over to a feeble tale of Lilly King wagging her finger. NBC did flash over to the tennis for two minutes once, but they didn’t even mention the men’s singles. We heard only that the mixed doubles had been an All-American affair.
The other night, I was really keen to see the women’s gymnastics floor competition. These little women are amazing, defying gravity with their powerful bodies, throwing themselves so high into the air that you wouldn’t be surprised to find them going into orbit. Maybe they are the future of the human race - climate change would be helped if we were all 30% smaller and we wouldn’t need jetpacks.
The NBC prime time show kept trailing the gymnastics. I watched a TV presenter get a fencing lesson with an Olympian and learned that Simone Biles’ haul of medals was pretty much overshadowed by the thrill she got from meeting her hero Zac Efron.
There was a package about “Romantic Rio”. “For some the Olympics is all about gold medals, but for others gold rings are going to be their most cherished momentoes ”.
Then we met the beach volleyball women’s team. “At home there is a ceramic moose in need of some ornamentation.” I kid you not, there was a picture of one of the team’s living room with a ceramic moose head on the wall, one antler draped with a medal from a previous Olympics. Of course, I was sitting there amazed, thinking: “Gosh, this woman is an Olympic athlete but she’s also a mum just like me, and I really hope she wins now because otherwise that moose is just going to look all lopsided there in her home.” Not.
By the time they got to the gym, I had given up and gone to the pub. I was nursing a single malt at the bar when those incredible floor routines finally aired and since then I have been unable to watch them.
But what I want to know is, why can’t I watch the BBC abroad? I would definitely be prepared to subscribe to an IBC channel. Perhaps the reason they kill the content as soon as they realise you are not in the UK is to do with the contracts under which the BBC sells its programmes abroad. If that is the case, they should change the contracts. The world is changing. NBC is getting punished by viewers for its pre-digested approach. It is not the 1990s and people have other choices.
Good content is at a premium and channels across the world are going to buy Downton Abbey whether there is an IBC or not.
I’m not even bothered about drama. My current favourite programme is BBC Scotland’s The Adventure Show. At home, I like to sit on the sofa with a cuppa and a digestive watching Cameron McNeish trudge up Munros, raindrops misting up the camera lens.
Dear BBC, please let me pay to watch your coverage of events like the Olympics and your own non-fiction content such as this fine show. Surely creating an international subscription channel could provide valuable revenue. And for viewers in the UK, know that your BBC TV service is gold.
PS: Since writing the piece above, I have been advised by friends to download a piece of software called VPN. This spoofs the BBC servers that I am in the UK. Logging onto the iplayer with this in place, I was asked if I pay a licence. In fact, I am still partly based in the UK and could answer truthfully that I do. But they didn’t ask for any evidence of that.
I now have free access to all BBC content on my laptop, although I have some concerns: one, that it may expose my computer to use by third parties or viruses, and two that I would rather watch on the TV and not on my laptop.
To be honest, I would much rather pay the BBC to view the content while abroad. The fact that dinosaurs like me can pass through it, also proves the wall is useless. Does it exist only to serve some legal requirement? Why not get some better lawyers and come up with a solution that allows a paywall to be created, instead of a pointless pretend-y wall?