NBC’s production of the 2016 Summer Olympics was broadly panned by media critics, but what problems did the average viewer have with the network's biennial sports showcase? To find out, The Verge made a Freedom of Information Act request to the FCC for complaints related to the two-week event. The grievances, 18 of which were shared in the FCC’s response, fall into three buckets: inadequate closed captioning, discrimination of non-cable subscribers, and what else, sexual indecency.
The issue of NBC failing to properly handle closed captioning is a serious one, and something we intend to explore further. But the FCC complaints are largely technical, focusing on the specifics of when, where, and how long closed captioning was poorly handled or completely absent from broadcasts. So, for the time being, we’ll focus on the two other issues.
The silliest, saddest, and most political complaints pertained to the human body, and how much of it should be shown.
From a viewer in New York, New York:
Last night 08/06/16 NBC Olympic coverage included video of naked women which was inappropriate for a the wider audience.
From a viewer in Norman, Oklahoma:
NBC's coverage of the Olympic opening ceremony displayed numerous examples of people's buttocks for the viewing pleasure on my children 9 and 5. This seems highly inappropriate for a recorded program meant to be watched by a general audience.
My favorite complaint manages to fit erect and wobbly penises into the same paragraph. From a viewer in Attleboro, Massachusetts:
In today's world and what's considered entertainment it's very tough to enjoy wholesome programing as a family, from the heavily rotated sexual content on every program to overplayed ED commercials it's tough to enjoy a program as a family without being uncomfortable. I thought the Olympic try outs last night would provide us the opportunity as a family to enjoy something together. The track and field events are nothing short of minor pornography and should be rated R to NC17 clothing that is to tight exposing male genitals is NOT what I had in mind when sitting with my family last night. Something needs to be done. Less Camera time and Slow Motion Of These Runners flip Flopping their way accross [sic] the finish line. These athletes should be required to wear an ahleletic [sic] supporter or precautions should be put in place by the broadcasting network to create a more comfortable family friendly program
The agony of the non-cable subscriber
This passionate complaint from a viewer in Pomona, California synopsizes the problem:
This company only gives me 30 minutes for a soccer match that lasts an hour and a half. They should have never been awarded this license. The Olympics is to bring people from the entire world together, not for overly greedy corporations such as these. See picture "your temporary access" sounds like a monopoly to me. There is no other source I can do... NBC is no longer a broadcast television source... they are cable! So yank or investigate their license!!!! Also this goes against NET NEUTRALITY..
The viewer is referring to NBC’s decision to host many of the sporting events across various cable networks and on a web app that required viewers to log in through a cable service. While it’s not quite an issue of "net neutrality," it certainly divides the audience into haves and have-nots. Other complaints hit similar notes.
From a viewer in Portland, Oregon:
NBC requires cable TV or satellite subscription in order to use the "live streaming" olympic coverage feature. As their network uses public air-ways I don not think they should be allowed to restrict who can view this content.
From North Las Vegas, Nevada:
None of the commentators are mentioning you have to have one of there approved cable or satalite [sic] providers. Anyone using an antenatal like myself can't watch there coverage online. This is coerrission [sic] between NBC and the cable companies. I feel I am penalized because I can't afford cable and use and antenna.
And from viewer in Pasadena, California:
NBC is holding online Olympic videos hostage and not making them available to people who cannot afford cable/satellite/telephone company entertainment contracts. This should be against the law. It is un-American and smacks of fascism with the elites withholding information from the rest of US.
According to that complaint, NBC previously responded to the viewer’s original complaint, filed directly to the network, with a link to videos that, without a cable or video subscription, expired after watching 30 minutes of content. And as we know, half an hour is not nearly enough time to appreciate the majesty of "runners flip flopping their way across the finish line."