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Editorial: Giant Leaps

As the Olympic torch passes to the next venue and Curiosity starts roving the surface of Mars, it is time for a little back-patting for the communications media that put all this action in our living rooms and rec rooms—OK, and on our office TVs, which we only monitor occasionally in the interests of keeping abreast of the latest news.

NBC has been flamed for some of its torch coverage; some maybe deserved, some not.

NBC could have blown out its entire schedule to carry all the marquee events live during the day, but decided instead to tape-delay some of it, while still providing, according to the network, a total 272.5 hours of broadcast network coverage. That’s the most Olympics coverage ever on a network, which means, generally, the most for NBC, since it has had the Games since some of the contestants were only a golden gleam in their parents’ eyes.

According to NBCUniversal, combining all its coverage, across all its platforms—of which there were more than at a Chinese diving school—they totaled 291 hours a day of coverage, which works out to a dozen days’ worth of Olympics for every day.

That total included 3D and does not even include the Ultra HD coverage that was captured in a test for public and private viewings in Washington, Britain and Japan during the Games—pictures 16 times as sharp as current HD.

It is easy to take for granted that we do TV in this country really well. CBS executive Marty Franks, who was in London for the Games to watch his son coach women’s field hockey, said the one thing he believed he was really going to miss was the U.S. TV coverage. That indeed turned out to be the case, as Franks informed B&C upon his return.

The unsung heroes, of course, are the techies and crews that had to get that footage from there to here virtually 24/7 for 17 days. And by the way, a Pew Research study found that 78% of Olympics watchers dubbed that coverage either excellent or good.

Critics have the luxury of watching the race from the sidelines, then jumping in afterward for some Monday-morning backstroking. But in our book, props are due to everyone involved in the herculean technical and human effort of lifting that enterprise and holding it up for the requisite time to earn a medal.

While we are talking about amazing feats, there was less fanfare than there should have been last week for the touchdown of the Mars rover Curiosity, which began almost immediately to send back pictures of the Red Planet’s surface.

Crystal clear pictures from space are another one of those giant leaps for technology that have become so commonplace that we forget to stop, drop our jaw and marvel at what we can accomplish. On NASA TV’s coverage, one of the members of the NASA team advised viewers that they should all puff out their chests and hold their heads a little higher because the accomplishment was theirs, too. We agree.