Watching the Olympics has been a UX nightmare


I’ve totally loved watching this yr’s Olympic Video games. There have been so many shifting moments, from when Simone Biles walked away from competitors for her well-being (however nonetheless cheered on her teammates) to when the males’s swimming medley relay group, which certified in lane one as an underdog, set a world document and took the gold.

I like the Olympics. That’s, once I can discover them.

In the United States, watching the Video games this yr has been a logistical nightmare. The difficultly in determining which occasions are occurring when, and tips on how to watch them, undermines the 7,000 hours of in any other case rigorously deliberate competitors.

America’s roughly 13-hour time distinction with Tokyo doesn’t assist. However the issues are exacerbated by a difficult circle of broadcast rights, coupled with a unusual mixture of real-time protection, prime-time replays, and sports activities streamed throughout a handful of various companies.


We reside in an age when one can discover any childhood TV present to stream in seconds. You’ll be able to have any meals fetish delivered to your door in an hour. However if you wish to see the 100-meter ladies’s hurdles finals earlier than the outcomes are in your information feed? Good luck. The capabilities that expertise affords broadcasters had been alleged to make our lives simpler. As a substitute, they’ve made them more durable—at the very least throughout this yr’s Video games.

Certainly, when you’ve discovered the easy act of viewing the Olympics to be absurdly tough, it’s not simply you. “That is NBC’s seventh go-around of livestreaming the Olympics on the web,” says Jesse James Garrett, a UX marketing consultant and cofounder of the human-centered design agency Adaptive Path. “They usually nonetheless haven’t gotten it proper.”

[Screenshot: NBC Sports]

A bitter deal

One drawback is that in the U.S., broadcast rights belong to NBCUniversal solely. NBC is a TV channel, sure, but it surely’s additionally a sequence of cable networks, the NBC Sports activities App, NBC’s Tokyo 2020 Olympics App for TV, and the Peacock streaming app. Throughout the Olympics, it’s additionally a streaming web site.

NBCUniversal, like all different massive media firms, is aware of that streaming is the future (streaming at the moment accounts for a third of all TV time, however Nielsen says that figure is growing quickly), and so it must construct out platforms like Peacock to outlive in that future. To get shoppers utilizing extra of those companies, NBC has sliced and diced Olympics protection throughout all of its platforms. As an illustration, you possibly can watch the full ladies’s gymnastics occasions only on Peacock. And when you plan to observe any sport in 4K? Just cross your fingers.

[Screenshot: NBC Sports]

Streaming full-length Olympic replays sounds prefer it’s a excellent answer to having so many sports activities throughout so many platforms, however these streams are tightly managed by advert {dollars}. Some are introduced in six-hour-long chunks, stopping you from fast-forwarding (lest you skip a business), which means that when you wished to see one thing at hour 5 of the stream, you might want to stream 5 literal hours to get there.


Is that this simply the method of the trendy world? No. The remainder of the globe doesn’t reside this fashion as a result of NBCUniversal doesn’t management the Olympics broadcast worldwide. Once I reached out to UX knowledgeable and marketing consultant Matt Webb, asking how the Olympics broadcast was taking part in out over in Britain, he had no complaints, and he hadn’t heard any from mates. BBC performs two simultaneous reside broadcasts, and you should buy extra protection by subscribing to Eurosport. His one sore spot is the similar factor that almost all of his nation is complaining about. In 2012 and 2016, they may watch each occasion free by means of the BBC iPlayer net stream. Now that’s a paid privilege.

A FOMO-inducing presentation

In a bigger sense, streaming has utterly reshaped viewers’ expectations of what we must always be capable to watch. We count on to have the ability to watch completely something at any time. And something lower than whole entry makes us really feel like we’re lacking out.

I’ve been watching the Olympics by means of Xfinity, which has a particular web page for Olympics content material, displaying reside occasions and different sport-specific streams. Hulu has a related system, as does YouTubeTV. Even NBC’s personal Olympics webpage works like this.

[Screenshot: Xfinity]

On all of those platforms, sporting occasions are introduced like thumbnails that you choose to observe. It appears simple at first look. I can open Peacock with a faucet to observe a gymnastics replay. Or I can tune in to the reside broadcast of swimming. It doesn’t matter if it’s cable, DVR, or an app stream. The designs have glued all of those disparate platforms collectively.

The problem is that there’s no excellent taxonomical view that reveals all 47 separate occasions, and makes certain you possibly can catch every thing inside that occasion. (Xfinity allows you to decide your favourite sports activities to spotlight, however in observe, it’s so buggy it’s ineffective. The device actually misses the very occasions it guarantees to flag for you.)

As a end result, whereas we at all times have choices for which occasion to observe subsequent, we by no means really feel like we’re seeing all the choices out there to us—not to mention choices which can be tailor-made to our preferences. “There’s this cloud of FOMO hanging over this Olympics expertise,” Garrett says. “There’s a lot uncertainty as to what’s occurring; has this factor occurred but, what have I missed?”

So even when we will technically stream extra Olympics than ever earlier than, our expectations are raised, and we really feel like we’re seeing much less of the stuff we wish.

[Screenshot: Xfinity]

No serendipity

One other problem with streaming a lot of the Olympics is that you might want to decide in to what you wish to watch subsequent. Once more, that’s excellent for catching the ladies’s volleyball ultimate that you simply’d deliberate to see. But it surely additionally implies that discovering a new occasion you want might be trickier.

Garrett found his favourite Olympic sport, trampoline, when he was watching TV in the center of the night time years in the past. Likewise, I found curling once I awakened throughout the Winter Olympics with my hungry child. “I used to be fascinated and captivated by it. I now have a favourite obscure Olympic sport as a results of the serendipity of the broadcast,” he says. “There’s no room for serendipity in the experiences NBC is placing ahead.”

Serendipity is especially essential for the Olympics as a result of it’s such a massive occasion you could barely wrap your head round it—at the same time as a superfan. “Individuals don’t watch the Olympics the method they watch different tv, and even different sports activities,” Garrett says. “However they’re taking this distinctive, one-of-a-kind-on-the-planet expertise, and shoving it into no matter form their platforms permit.”

Streaming makes you select your individual future, re-creating that very same feeling of looking at a wall of content material in your Netflix queue, unsure of what to observe subsequent. “They’re utilizing all the similar interface constructions and conceptual fashions for [Olympics] content material that folks simply don’t eat that method,” Garrett provides. “You’ll be able to inform in the design of those [streaming] companies . . . they shovel as a lot content material in entrance of you as attainable till you lastly submit and click on play on one thing. They’re not notably concerned with getting you to the absolute best factor.” We reached out to NBCUniversal for remark and can replace the story if we hear again.


[Screenshot: NBC Sports]

Good spoilers, unhealthy narratives

Even when you determine the occasion you wish to watch, the precise viewing expertise of the Olympics is commonly missing. Due to the 24-hour information cycle, likelihood is good you recognize the end result earlier than you even watch the competitors. However NBC isn’t doing a lot to cover something, both.

Go to the NBC Olympics web site, and it has a complete class for watching occasions through which Workforce USA gained gold. Underneath every thumbnail, a headline elaborates on the outcomes of the occasion. Sure, I can perceive that you simply wish to see the largest moments of the Olympics. However NBC places spoilers in every single place—assuming you haven’t gotten a push notification from CNN or The New York Occasions.

However what do the largest moments of the Olympics imply when you understand how they performed out from information that’s actually on high of NBC’s streaming web page, like “Mensah-Inventory is golden in ladies’s 68kg” and “Biles wins bronze on beam”? The place is the suspense and the drama? The place is the stress born from overcoming all odds and getting the win?

Garrett factors out that this drawback is made solely worse by how Peacock presents many occasions, lower down into 2- to 4-minute segments. These might be sharply edited, efficient summaries of a medal placement. However they’re additionally utterly devoid of significant context.

“What you’ve with the nationwide tv broadcast that’s lacking [in streams] is the concierge that Bob Costas was for us, to information us by means of the mysteries and level us to the discoveries,” Garrett says. (Mike Tirico is taking that function this yr for NBC’s TV broadcast.) “I don’t precisely understand how you replicate that in a consumer interface, however I feel some factor of the curatorial is lacking.”

Certainly, anybody who can run or swim quick sufficient might be an Olympian. However what makes the expertise of watching Olympians compete so compelling is about greater than the few hundredths of a second between the podium and the pavement. It’s the wealthy tales we get by means of further video packages. It’s assembly the athletes’ households. It’s understanding their coaching. It’s the mini-snapshot into their wealthy, difficult lives that has introduced them to this one second: a single race or match. And in so lots of the streams, this context is nonexistent, not due to a lack of sources, however by means of design.

NBCUniversal, sadly, has little incentive to do a higher job. In 2014, it paid $7.75 billion for unique rights to broadcast the Olympics in the U.S. till 2032. Viewership this yr is down, with the opening ceremonies having the lowest ratings in 33 years. However actually no competitor is allowed to do the job higher.

We will’t blame NBCUniversal for its shortcomings, at the very least not completely. This monopolistic association was dreamed up by the Worldwide Olympic Committee (IOC), the sports activities group that strictly manages the Olympic Video games—from pushing them on throughout COVID-19 to investigating innocuous statements athletes make on the podium.

The IOC’s tightly managed, regionally fenced broadcast rights account for 73% of the IOC’s revenue. NBCUniversal supplies 40% of all IOC revenue by means of this association alone. And there aren’t any indicators of that altering any time quickly. So long as there’s cash in eliminating competitors from the Olympics broadcast, the consumer expertise of watching the Video games will take a again seat to the agendas of those that pay a lot for the rights to broadcast it.