Jon Wertheim: Tipping point looms for Summer Olympics
1:40 | Olympics
Jon Wertheim: Tipping point looms for Summer Olympics
Saturday August 6th, 2016

Three thoughts on the Rio Olympics opening ceremony:

1. The creative team for Rio’s opening ceremony set a goal of changing the paradigm from previous Olympic ceremonies—specifically, scaling down from costly productions featuring major electronic and mechatronic effects—and the pre-parade of nations part of the program Friday night at the famed Maracanã Stadium certainly accomplished that. The program highlighted the development of the forest, indigenous life, colonists’ arrival, influence of Africans (slaves) and other immigrants. One of my colleagues in Rio, editor Richard Demak, referred to the opening part of the ceremony as an ethnomusicologist’s dream, featuring the history and ongoing evolution of Brazilian music, from samba to hip hop. Also, give the Rio ceremony creative team credit for boldness: One hour into the program, the estimated one billion viewers from around the globe saw a series of maps showing the impact of climate change around the world including the melting of the polar ice caps and how rising sea levels will affect some coastal cities in the event of a temperature increase. The ceremony was a strong mix of joy and diversity, topped off by a stirring torch passing before Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, who led the Olympic marathon in 2004 in Athens at 19 miles when a spectator leaped from the crowd and attacked him, lit the Olympic cauldron. De Lima rebounded to finish with the bronze medal in that race and was later awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal for sportsmanship.

2. The Olympics are of course a major branding play for NBC and given the hosts of the opening ceremony—Matt Lauer, Meredith Viera and Hoda Kotb—the production played like a giant infomercial for The Today Show. For fans of morning television, the hosts and parades with floats, this program was for you. Objectively, the production came across as choppy given the number of commercials (numerous people on Twitter timed it at one spot every six minutes for the first 40 minutes). Inconceivably, for a program that clocked in well over four hours, NBC edited out a speech from Kenyan running legend Kip Keino. To its credit, NBC has never shied away from saying the Olympics are a for-profit enterprise. The Games cost NBC billions and this is why you get such frequency of commercials and a tape-delay to set up the broadcast. One thing the program had little of was a discussion of the myriad of issues facing these Games outside of top-line bullet points on the Russian Team. Expect that trend to continue during NBC Sports’s coverage, with the network outsourcing any heavy lifting to NBC News. As I’ve written before, I’d opt for non-rights holders when it comes to the underbelly of these Games.

Rio Olympics Viewer's Guide: Helping you navigate NBC's coverage

3. The Parade of Nations is always a highlight of the opening ceremony, and the best moment came at the end of the parade when the crowd roared for the 10-person Refugee Team, which is competing under the Olympic flag, followed by an even bigger ovation for Brazil (the host nation always enters last). It was great fun to watch the beaming, dancing faces of the Brazilian athletes, even with massive over-talking from the hosts during that country’s entrance (thankfully, the NBC trio did lay out after all the athletes arrived on the infield). Credit to NBC’s graphics department for the quality directionals that prompted viewers on the countries coming up in the broadcast. I also thought the hosts handled the sports factoids well enough (thanks, NBC researchers and producers) given it’s outside their usual bailiwick. One video I highly recommend: Here’s U.S. Olympic basketball player Harrison Barnes filming his walk into Maracanã Stadium. Very cool.

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