Those Lousy Games

Remember when saying “Wayne Brady makes Bryant Gumbel look like Malcolm X” was a joke. These days there’s been a big firestorm about the comments Gumbel made on his Real Sports program on HBO.

“Count me among those who don’t like ’em and won’t watch ’em. Try not to be incredulous when someone attempts to link these Games to those of the ancient Greeks who never heard of skating or skiing. Try not to laugh when someone says these are the world’s greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention.”

He also went after some other easy targets like figure skating and judged sports. But the big news was that Gumbel pulled the “race card”. Well he’s absolutely right. And even if you don’t think its a race thing, you have to admit that the Winter Olympics are not for all socio-economic groups. Being a winter athlete requires more than just natural ability, it also requires the resources or support to pay for the training.

The nature of winter sports requiring things like ice or snow makes it more difficult for anyone to pick the sports up and practice regularly. Skiing and snowboarding require a lot of equipment and lift passes. Hockey is also a prohibitively expensive sport for kids to get into with equipment and ice time. Figure skating – damn, you must be rich – because you have to pay for ice time, private coaches, as well as things like costumes and music. I would love to see the upfront required to put Sasha Cohen on the podium. Sure it will payout in the end and the USOC tries to support all athletes regardless of their income levels. Still I am doubtful about how many of our Winter Olympic heroes work at McDonald’s or Home Depot to support their training. And its not surprising that there are fewer developing countries represented in the Winter Games than the Summer ones. Winter Games are elitist sports, period.

And how about the Olympics coverage NBC has treated us to thus far. I have probably watched the prime time coverage at least 1/2 of the days its been on. And all I can remember seeing is figure skating and snowboarding, with 5 minute spurts of speed skating or skiing. Note that figure skating and snowboarding are both judged sports – with little credibility in my mind. Figure skaters are judged for cuteness as much as their talent. And snowboarding is given to the most brainless American teenager who is willing to skip the X Games.

The most satisfying thing about this Olympics games has been Bode Miller’s failure to win at anything this games – despite the media attention. In fact nearly all the athletes featured in any pre-Games previews have blown it. It’s at least reassuring to know NBC can’t script these things – even the French judge couldn’t have made Cohen fall twice during last night’s long program. Anyway, this Winter Olympics has served as a lesson for me. The Winter Olympics is not a moment of global cooperation, but more a self-congratulatory pat on the back for the world’s elite.

Update: Patrick has made some good comments, so be sure to check them out. He’s right that the problem with the Olympics isn’t really racial. I do think that they are more of an elitist event though and not as accessible as other sports. Hopefully we’ll see this change in the years to come.

Thon Live

As a Penn State student, I should share with the world that this weekend is Thon weekend. The Penn State Dance Marathon is a student run event where thousands of students dance for 48 hours straight for cancer. They raise millions of dollars to help support the families of kids with cancer and to research for a cure. I personally am not very involved in Thon, although everyone on campus typically ends up contributing in some way. In the past we’ve had Penny Wars in my hall to raise money. You can see previous years’ Thon coverage on the Collegian’s site.

Anyway I have been pretty interested in the ways they are sharing the experience with the world online. They have a webcast running throughout the event, with shout-outs from participants and video of all the festivities. They’re playing it on one of the local access channels here and I have been tuned in all day (Yet another blow to NBC’s Olympic coverage). They are also running a blog with regular posts from Rec Hall. I am kind of annoyed by that, because I wanted to do a Thon blog on the Collegian site. Maybe next year. In any case, check out their coverage and if you can donate, because its a nice cause. And check out the Collegian’s site Monday for their coverage – I’ll be helping produce that on the website.

Update: The Thon webcast was watched by 25,000 viewers in 30 countries over the weekend, and 1/3 of those viewers donated money online. This turned out to be a major part of helping them beat last year’s record.

Y100 Still Rocks

Last weekend I went to a classmate’s solo concert where she played acoustic guitar and sang a bunch of 90s alternative songs I remembered from high school. I had heard them all first on Y100, a radio station that really introduced me to music for the first time. So I was dismayed when their owners took them off the air last year. It changed the landscape of Philadelphia radio, but its legacy still lives on.

A lot of their talent has gone on to work at other radio stations, like morning guys Preston and Steve. They moved to WMMR and I have started to download their podcast as a way of keeping in touch with home. More interesting, however, is the fact that some former employees and fans have kept Y100 running – online. Y100Rocks.com is an online station that has kept a lot of the trappings of the original with artist interviews, contests, and exclusive concerts. They broadcast on Live365 and are currently the #3 alternative station on the site. Somehow they are supporting themselves with some advertising on the site and on-air. What impresses me is that it seems like a lot of the artists have respect for the stations legacy and have continued to work with them. They are currently celebrating the end of their first year on air.

I don’t listen to internet radio much because I have my iTunes and Napster on my computer, but I am trying them out right now. Not quite the classic songs that I remember from my high school years, but its not bad. Beside the nostalgic thing, this is a great example of how a traditional media organization can adapt to online with success. I wish Y100Rocks the best of luck in their next year on the air.

A Real Olympic Hero

Tonight I was really struck by a story on ESPN.com about America speed skater Joey Cheek. He won a gold medal this week for winning the 500m race, but he his honored in this article for his pledge to donate his $25,000 prize to refugees in Darfur. He even put his sponsors on the spot, calling on them to double or beat his pledge. This isn’t just a guy trying to draw attention to himself through a goodwill gesture. Cheek comes from a family of volunteers; he himself works with the Special Olympics.

The writer points out the fact that Cheek is largely overshadowed in these Games by name brands like Apollo Ono, Bode Miller, and Michelle Kwan. They all get big paychecks from sponsors, but all have yet to win in Torino. NBC has spent hours following Shawn White, an awkward snowboarder who hoped his gold medal would help him get “babes”. And yet I doubt Cheek’s race will get only a couple minutes worth of TV coverage tonight. I am not calling into question the talent or character of these other athletes, but I agree with ESPN’s Eric Adelson that Joey Cheek is the type of athlete I would like to see more of. It’s refreshing to see selflessness in the Olympics, a competition that celebrates individual accomplishment.

Update: I found out that Cheek actually donated his money to a charity that helps promote sports in third world countries, still a good cause. Cheek also got to carry the flag into the closing ceremonies and emerged as one of the few good stories of the Games.

Old Media Hogwash

Ok this is old news by now, but I’ll still complain about it. Rupert Murdoch is a media tycoon who owns 20th Century Fox. He has also been hailed as a technology leader because he bought DirectTV and MySpace.com. I think he’s overrated. Listen to him talk about Fox’s video offerings in Newsweek:

We’re not knocked out by iPod so far… How many will want to pay $1.99 on Monday morning if they missed “Desperate Housewives” the night before? What’s been announced so far with iPod and Disney and NBC is very small-time at the moment… There are so many things you can do, particularly in other parts of the world, where mobile-telephone service is a lot more developed. We’re downloading minute segments-original “mobisodes”-of the Fox hit “24”… It’ll be a pretty serious piece of revenue for us someday, probably. We’ll be into all these things, some quite original and some of what others are doing.

I wouldn’t mind if Murdoch said they didn’t want to lock their customers into the Apple format or that they think quality of iTunes video was sufficient. I would almost accept the argument that you didn’t trust DRM as a way of protecting your content. But to say that they know what we want better than we do, that’s just stupid. Then to say the “mobisodes” are better, is ridiculous. How can 1 minute of Jack Bauer (actually, I doubt the 24 mobisode even has Kiefer) be better than an hour?

What really bothers me about all this is the presumption that content-owners know their customers better than the customers know themselves. Apple’s model has become very successful and has actually helped shows gain a larger audience (see The Office). I wonder what would happen if Murdoch would have let people could have test Arrested Development out for $1.99 an episode?

(On an aside, last night’s “finale” of Arrested Development was spectacular. Perhaps another network would be good enough to continue it. If that doesn’t happen, it was great while it lasted and they went out with a bang.)

Great Video, On Demand

Forget your digital cable package. It’s becoming clear to me that on demand video content is becoming increasingly available on your desktop, on the web. For example, I missed the Villanova-St. Joe’s game tonight (I’m from Philly area, so I take an interest in Big 5 basketball) so I thought I would check out the score on EPSN.com. Since their recent redesign, I have noticed ESPN has changed their game recap pages to include video highlights. They have always had video content on their site, but to have the actual highlights embedded right on the page is a wonderful feature. Also of note these videos don’t require Windows Media, Real, or Quicktime, just good old-fashioned Flash. Nice.

Last month Viacom’s MTV, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon made news by adding a number of series to the iTunes Music Store. What hasn’t gotten a lot of attention is the fact that MTV and Comedy Central already have a lot of video content online for free. MTV Overdrive and Comedy Central Motherload services are pretty intriguing additions since they let you quickly access a wealth of content from their respective networks. They even have Windows Media Center add-ons which are pretty popular. I have found these services to be neat though they require more bandwidth than I really have at this point, but the amount of content is impressive. And MTV overcame an obstacle by putting together a nice plug-in to help it run smoothly on Firefox, in addition to IE.

User-driven media is quickly becoming the darling of the Internet, and video is no exception. iFilm used to seem cool, but YouTube is a much better source for amusing clips these days. Anyone (including me) can upload video clips to the site for worldwide consumption. Its range includes last night’s SNL skit to commercials to lonely teenagers lip-syncing pop songs. Google Video tries to do similar things, though it straddles the line between being an open marketplace and protecting content owner rights. A lot of video blogs are sprouting up on iTunes’ directory and others, including my favorite: Rocketboom. As you can see, free on demand video content is all around us and only growing. Tomorrow I’ll complain about the companies that aren’t embracing it.

My Super Weekend

Hope you had a good holiday weekend. That’s right, Super Bowl Sunday is a national holiday according to one PSU professor. It certainly does a good enough job getting people to come together. I watched the game in a dorm with some friends, including one annoyingly happy Steelers fan. Though we like to think its a 50-50 split, the truth is the Steelers are the favorite team here in State College. It seemed like they might have been the NFL’s favorite too. Truth is I like the Steelers as a team, I just didn’t want to have to deal with their obnoxious fans. Congratulations to the Steelers, especially Betis and Cowher, and the thousands of Steelers fans who live under the delusion that their support made the difference. If you weren’t interested in the game, I thought the FedEx’s cavemen commercial was the best.

Actually the biggest sports news around here is Penn State’s upset of #6 Illinois on Saturday night. I went to the game Wednesday night against Michigan, which was a closer match-up than it should have been. I imagine I will be going to more games after this weekend’s performance. I spent my weekend at the theaters seeing Something New and Captoe, both very worthwhile. I think Phillip Seymore Hoffman should be getting an Oscar for his performance. Speaking of which, I am planning to put together my belated Best Films of 2005 list and Oscar picks soon when I get a chance. Also, I got tricked into watching Grey’s Anatomy after seeing the commercials – only to be left with a cliffhanger. It confirmed most of my worst suspicions about the show, including the fact that it couldn’t take Scrubs in a fight.

My real reason for writing tonight was just to get back to blogging again. I have been really slow about posting, though the posts I have written have gotten a lot of attention. It’s nice to take time and write a good post once in a while, but lately I have just only been doing long rants which don’t really reflect what I am thinking. So starting tomorrow I will go back to posting at least once a day, something I did when I started this blog. I am also pleased with the way I styled this post, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I do even more first person writing. Anyway, more posts are on the way in the future.