In U.S., Wimbledon Works on NBC Time
By RICHARD SANDOMIR
NBC’s tape-delaying of Wimbledon semifinals matches remains one of the most perplexing practices in television sports.
It is NBC’s contractual right do it but the All-England Club should have negotiated it out of the network’s deal long ago. For as long as NBC has pursued the policy, as if it were acceptable, it has been an anti-fan practice.
With the ability to stream the match live online, and with ESPN and the Tennis Channel as cable partners, NBC’s delaying tactics in 2010 is more inexplicable than ever.
NBC’s contract runs through next year and can be extended for two more at the club’s option. Note to club: do not renew or extend NBC’s deal unless the network guarantees that it will, if necessary, pre-empt any of the programming, including the lucrative “Today” show and “Ellen,” that runs instead of live tennis.
On Friday, ESPN2’s coverage of Tomas Berdych’s semifinal victory over Novak Djokovic ended at 10:28 a.m. eastern. Then, the network had to vamp until noon because it did not have the right to show the second semifinal.
The Rafael Nadal-Andy Murray match began at 10:55 a.m., but neither NBC nor ESPN2 viewers could see it. The void lasted until noon, when NBC’s broadcast window began.
By the time NBC came on the air, Nadal had won the first set, and the second was well under way. But in NBC Time it had not started. The network came on the air and spent six minutes in a taped (of course!) preview of the match; it showed fans entering the gates of the club, drinking Champagne and awaiting the start of the match on Henman Hill, all of it hours ago.
We saw the players warm up. We heard the announcers discuss the forthcoming match.
Then, the match began, in NBC Time, eastern time zone, at 12:06 p.m., 71 minutes after it began on Planet Earth. It was streamed, on delay, of course, on nbcsports.com.
What makes NBC’s plausibly-live Wimbledon even more nettlesome is that its broadcast window begins at noon in all time zones — delaying the start button of NBC’s recording by at least another hour depending on the time zone you live in.