Five-ring Circus

Faster, Higher, Stronger

How TiVo turned me into NBC.

I went into the 2004 Olympics thinking that NBC should be ashamed of itself. How dare the network slice, dice, and time-delay the best events, just because American attention spans can’t handle an entire badminton match!

But I had a special friend who would help me, if not foil NBC’s sinister plot, then at least wrest back some measure of control over the Olympic viewing experience. NBC, meet my good friend TiVo.

Yes, I’m one of those cocktail party bores who, given the slightest opening, will tell you all about how TiVo changes the way you watch television. (Actually, my digital recorder is a TiVo-like device from my satellite company, Dish Network. But it’s the same idea.)

I already know the results of the big Olympic matches by the time I sit down to watch NBC’s coverage. (As a journalist, I can’t really avoid seeing the outcomes as they flash on my wire service reader in between headlines about Najaf and Swift boat veterans.) So my plan was to tape as much as I could and watch on myschedule, reassembling the matches NBC strung out across its evening coverage.

But a funny thing happened on the way to viewer independence. I found myself not really foiling NBC, but becoming NBC.

It started during one of the longer swimming races last week, a 4 x 200-meter relay I think. I happily skipped past all the pre-race banter that drives me crazy and went right to the start of the race. Honk. The swimmers were off, and I watched for several laps. Then I found my right thumb creeping toward the fast-forward button. Maybe I’ll just zoom through a lap or two, I thought. It was easy to see who was ahead, even at 15 times normal speed. I watched the seven-minute race in about four minutes, returning to real time for the end. Then I sped through the commercials.

To make a long Olympics short, I’ve now gotten to the point where I can speed through NBC’s main four hour evening show in under an hour. The 1,500-meter men’s freestyle, normally a 15-minute race, lasted only two for me. Then I turned my remote on the gymnasts. Seen three beam routines, seen ‘em all. Click. On to the uneven parallel bars. Five minutes there, then click. Floor routines? Maybe later. I wanted to find some beach volleyball.

You may have felt cheated by NBC’s mercilessly condensed highlight reel of the gold-medal women’s soccer match between the USA and Brazil. Well, you should just be glad I wasn’t doing the condensing. My TiVo version of the bronze medal-match between Germany and Sweden was often running at 60 times normal speed. Warning: Don’t try this unless you’ve worked your way up from 4x and 15x—watching the players run back and forth so fast could cause vomiting.