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NBC: Nordic Bizarre Codes

A thought about NBC's coverage of the Nordic Combined event, while it's still burned onto my brain: I think it is safe to say that we, as a nation, are as well-versed in our cross-country skiing/ski jumping competitions as we probably should be. I mean, I watch an estimated 132 hours of sports on TV each week, and I'm fairly certain that none of that was devoted to the Nordic Combined prior to yesterday. I do not log on to the Internet to get my daily fix of Nordic Combined results. I do not spend hours chatting with my buddies about the turning point in assorted Nordic Combined events. I did not draft Hannu Manninen for my Nordic Combined fantasy team. I don't even know if Nordic Combined fantasy leagues actually exist.

So I don't know much about what's going on with the Nordic Combined, and I must rely on NBC to help me make sense of it all, in a way that I would not if this were a Cubs-Brewers game or the John Deere Classic or any one of the other sporting events I've wasted the best years of my life watching. And in explaining the finer points of Nordic Combined to me, NBC came up markedly short.

Put it this way: A graphic that I need to sit down and examine the way I might a medical chart or topographical map is probably a bit too convoluted for an Olympics telecast. And NBC's Nordic Combined graphics are a blur of Scandinavian names, plus and minus symbols, and numerals rendering in eye-straining 7-point type that look something like this:

Georg Hettich GER 1:23:50 +0:33
Petter Tande NOR 1:23:56 +0:39
Jaakko Tallus FIN 1:23:57 +0:40
J. Lamy-Chappuis FRA 1:24:01 +0:44

I spent a few minutes staring at these numbers from several inches away from my TV screen, and I think I finally cracked NBC's code. I'm also know legally blind. Thanks, NBC. Anyhow, the Nordic Combined stats seem to display the name of the competitor, the country, their time, and how far they are behind the leader in the cross-country skiing portion of the event. Seems pretty straight-forward, huh? Yes, except that as a new competitor comes into view, he knocks one of the older competitors off the list, so that the names are constantly scrolling up and off your TV screen. The effect is like you've suddenly been deposited on the trading floor of the Oslo Stock Exchange, and you're trying to trade all your shares in Jaakko Tallus before his ticker symbol disappears from view.

NBC also apparently hasn't figured out that one lithe Northern European in a skin-tight body suit pretty much looks like any other lithe Northern European in a skin-tight body suit, since there is no attempt at differentiating one competitor from the others. No captions. No thought bubbles. Not even culturally insensitive icons. ("Oooh, a beret... must be the French guy.")

This may be the first time this sentence is ever uttered in public, but NBC would do well to follow the lead of Fox Sports. Take a look at Fox's coverage of NASCAR. Now, I know about as much about stock car racing as I do Nordic Combined -- and yet, when I flip by Fox during the occasional motor race, I don't need to break out a protractor and a mechanical pencil to figure which hillbilly is leading the rest of the pack. There's a running ticker showing the order of the racers. There's floating graphics showing which sponsor-festooned car is which. If the only thing you know about NASCAR is that it's a never-ending series of left-hand turns, just a few minutes of watching Fox's coverage and you'll be reasonably up to speed.

So if Fox can effectively use graphics to tell me what son of the soil is leading a particular race, why can't NBC do the same for some Norwegian?


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