Olympics 2012: American viewers miss key segment of opening ceremony

Time-delayed, edited NBC broadcast replaces memorial with Ryan Seacrest interview

For British viewers, it was one of many moving moments in Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics: a reflective segment, following a 75-minute torrent of fire and energy and grit, paying tribute to the dead.


Scottish vocalist Emeli Sandé sang Abide with Me, accompanied by a graceful dance routine in a stadium lit by a large, dusky sun.

Those watching in the USA on NBC, however, didn’t see it: the channel’s time-delayed, edited version of last night’s ceremony instead featured an interview with swimmer Michael Phelps, conducted by American Idol host Ryan Seacrest.

The edit was immediately noted and criticised on Twitter by American viewers who had found a way to watch the ceremony live earlier in the day: NBC’s delayed broadcast began just as the live ceremony was drawing to a close in London.

The cut segment had been widely interpreted as a tribute to the 52 people killed in London in the 7/7 bomb attacks of 2005, a conclusion prompted by Hazel Irvine’s live commentary for the BBC: “The excitement of that moment in Singapore seven years ago when London won the Games was tempered with great sorrow the very next day, with events on 7 July.”

This, however, was not made explicit by the ceremony itself, which prefaced the Sandé performance with a memorial wall of scores of photographs, apparently comprising loved ones lost by those present in the stadium.

The director of the ceremony, Danny Boyle, said yesterday that his main motivation for taking on the job of creating the opening ceremony was his late father’s love of the Games. “My dad was a mad Olympics fan, seriously crazy sitting up all night watching Olympics from Mexico or wherever,” Boyle said. “Sadly he died 18 months ago, so he didn’t quite make it.”

Yesterday would have been Boyle’s father’s birthday.

NBC’s decision not to show the opening ceremony live and unexpurgated – it will live-stream the sporting action event by event on its website, in similar fashion to the BBC, but did not show the opening ceremony live online – attracted criticism. “Laughable that America is yet to start watching the Olympic ceremony on TV,” tweeted British CNN host Piers Morgan, moments before the delayed coverage began.


NBC is, however, likely to conclude that its decision to delay the coverage until evening primetime – if not specifically its omission of the Emeli Sandé segment – was justified: in 2008, a similarly delayed broadcast of the Beijing opening ceremony was criticised, but was seen by 34.9 million viewers, earning the network millions in advertising revenue.