Saturday, February 8, 2014

Still Life With Robin: Olympic Time Management

Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons
by Peggy Robin

The Winter Olympics has begun, and NBC is airing *1,539 hours* of coverage. It’s easy enough to find a guide listing the dates and times of the events, so you can tape just those of interest to you, without having to wade through the ones that bore you. Go to put in your zipcode and your TV provider, and set your DVR accordingly.

What I am offering is a different sort of guide -- not to the schedule of events but to the ratio of non-events to events, which is what you really need to know before you sit down to watch whatever you’ve recorded. I make it a practice never to watch anything at the time NBC chooses to broadcast it. Watching the real-air-time version guarantees that you’ll see the same commercials over and over till you can quote them in your sleep. NBC also tends to pick two or three different events -- say, pairs skating and cross-country skiing, and bring you a half hour of one, followed by half an hour of the other, interspersed with little vignettes of the athletes’ lives, cultural highlights, plus interviews with experts, and a whole lot of chatter, before bringing you back to the latter half of the competition you were following -- the part with the outcome of the event.

For those of us who don’t have 1,538 hours to spend at this endeavor, there needs to be a way to manage your recording and navigate efficiently through the playback. The trick, as I see it, is to start watching your recording at a point early enough in the process to give yourself the feeling of real-air-time viewing but still retain the ability to fast-forward through anything you want to skip over, without getting getting ahead of yourself, and getting overtaken by real time. 

You might think the solution is simply to record everything, and then come back hours later and just watch the bits you want to see, but the risk is that while you’re away doing other things, before you sit down to watch your completely recorded event, you will stumble across Olympic results in some other medium, and the suspense will be ruined. This is what happened to me in Olympics past. I would record a whole Saturday afternoon-ful of events with the intention of watching a particular event in its entirety later that evening, but then in the course of other mundane activities, such as checking Facebook or Twitter, I just could not avoid seeing a post from some ecstatic --or disappointed-- friend, commenting on an Olympic athlete’s unexpected victory or defeat.

The way to handle the recording viewing problem is to have a good sense of what percentage of each hour of Olympic viewing is going to be what you want to see. Then, if you are recording, for example, three hours of Olympic coverage, and you know that roughly half of it will be devoted to what you actually intend to watch, you can start your viewing halfway through, watch only what you want to watch, and end just as the show actually ends.

Now, to do this, you do need to know the breakdown of a typical hour of NBC’s Olympic coverage. To help you out, I have made a log of an actual hour of coverage --non-prime-time, recorded today (Saturday afternoon) between 11:48 AM - and 12:48 PM (on NBC-SN), showing how much of this typical hour of coverage is the event, how much is devoted to commercials, posting of scores, chatter, and previews of other events:

The sport for the hour was Ladies Short Program (part of the team figure skating competition).

11:48 Commercial
11:51 Chatter
11:52 Next group of skaters warm-up
11:56 French girl skates
12:00 Commercial
12:01 Scores posted for French girl
12:02 American girl skates (Ashley Wagner)
12:06 Scores posted for Ashley Wagner
12:07 Russian girl skates (Yulia Lipnitskaya)
12:11 Commercial
12:14 Scores posted for Russian girl
12:15 Japanese girl skates (Mao Asada)
12:20 Commercial
12:21 Short burst of chatter, then scores posted for Japanese girl
12:22 Italian girl skates (Carolina Kostner - wow, surprisingly good!)
12:27 Scores posted Italian girl
12:28 Chatter
12:30 Commercial
12:32 Chatter, wrap-up
12:37 Commercial break
12:40 Preview of upcoming event (cross country skiing)
12:45 Commercial
12:48 Chatter

Adding up the 60 minutes by categories yields these totals:

16 minutes out of the hour = commercials
13 minutes out of the hour = chatter (includes some expert commentary, stuff you probably want to hear)
05 minutes out of the hour = posting scores
26 minutes out of the hour = skating (includes 4 minutes of warm-up practice)

Assuming that an hour of non-prime time Olympics will keep a consistent ratio of 16 minutes of commercials for every 26 minutes of athletic competition and 18 minutes of coverage of other-than-competitive moments, you can plot out your viewing strategy rationally and efficiently (keeping in mind, of course, that the amount of competition time does tend to vary depending on the sport). Commercial time should remain relatively stable.

I hope this exercise helps you get the most out of your armchair participation in the games!


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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