TV time can be family time too

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Winter Olympic sports don’t necessarily gather the potato-chip-eating, jersey wearing, sports fanatics like Sunday afternoon football does.

Especially in the South, it’s a bit difficult for us to associate with all that ice and snow.

Even though the United States is currently leading in the medal count, we all still tend to think of Russians, Norwegians and Canadians when we think skating and skiing.

And that American mentality left the folks at NBC holding their frozen breath this winter.

Advertising dollars are way down — the network expects to lose $200 million — and ratings from the 2006 games in Italy weren’t strong.

But, so far, the news hasn’t been all bad. Through three nights of coverage, TV ratings are up 16 percent over the numbers from Turin, Italy.

The Friday night Opening Ceremonies drew 32.6 million viewers, up 48 percent from Italy.

Since Olympic TV ratings haven’t exactly medaled in the United States in recent years, the increases are great news to NBC.

But what do they say about us?

First, there is the obvious. Friday night, and much of the weekend, a larger than normal percentage of the United States was snowed in.

From Washington, D.C., to little-ole Natchez, the weather outside was frightful.

With the fear of melted snow freezing to the streets overnight, our newspaper published early to keep our contracted newspaper carriers safe. By the time the Opening Ceremonies started, I was at home on the couch, just like many of you.

Though our snow left over the weekend, other parts of the country are still fighting nasty streets and bitter weather.

Why not curl up at home in front of the TV?

And to top it off, the struggling national economy encourages TV watching.

With the fear of shrinking wallets, Americans have been less likely to hit the movie theaters, restaurants and clubs that previously took us away from the TV.

In most cases the TV is paid for and the cable or satellite already budgeted in.

So it’s easy to argue that the Olympics are succeeding this time because Americans have nothing better to do.

To a person raised on counting the days between winter and summer games, keeping a running medal count with my crayons and markers and learning the flags of the world from the ceremonies, that’s a depressing thought.

Instead, I’ll believe that gathering in front of the TV for the Olympics is becoming again what it was for me as a child — a family event.

With the exception of the video NBC aired showing the death of the Georgian luger, the Olympics are good clean TV in a time where almost nothing on network TV is appropriate for children.

A night of watching speed skating, alpine skiing and ice dancing featuring 20 different countries, dozens of languages and a true competitive spirit is more educational than any PBS cartoon.

And sharing an evening with mom and dad is truly priceless.

At my office, there’s been more water cooler Olympic talk than in past years. Ratings are up. Maybe there’s hope yet for the world’s games.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.