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Originally published January 16, 2010 at 10:01 PM | Page modified January 16, 2010 at 10:25 PM

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Ron Judd

NBC's 'live' Olympic coverage is anything but for West Coast viewers

Better get used to watching live coverage of the Winter Olympics on delay. That's NBC's strategy for "live" coverage for the West Coast.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Vancouver countdown

26 days to the start of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C., on Feb. 12

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SPOKANE — Here's what we wonder: If, god forbid, some major international incident occurred at the next Olympics at, say, midday: Would NBC delay coverage until prime time?

Seriously: Why not? They do it with all other instances of breaking news, including most of the major competitions that ardent Olympic fans most want to see.

Better ratings, says NBC, which says it has the market research to back that up — ostensibly provided by the same market-research geniuses who insisted Jay Leno would be a hit at 10 p.m.

The subject hit home again this week at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane, where we noted, much to our chagrin, that when it comes to NBC, the insanity never stops.

The network, as usual, will hose the tiny, insignificant, barbed-wire-tangled portion of the United States known as the "West Coast" by delaying broadcast of the main event for three hours to viewers from San Diego to Blaine.

NBC says it will show Saturday's women's free skate live, simultaneously, to both the East and West Coasts — which is perfectly doable — and have it magically appear at 9 p.m. in both places, which is perfectly NOT doable. Either the Fourth Place Network has already reinvested some of that Conan O'Brien money in new time-shifting broadcast technology, or the "live" designation is a lie to those of you unfortunate enough to live on the West Coast. It's the same intentional falsehood the peacock network foisted upon the not-fooled public during the Beijing Games.

So when you see "ET/PT," rest assured that means that the East Coast, the Coast That Matters, will get the event live in prime time. The rest of you will get it in prime time, too. Delayed by three hours. Even though it happened in your own time zone.

Got it? Good. Might as well get used to it, because you're going to get the same thing next month from Vancouver/Whistler. That's right: If you're thinking you'll be able to dial up, say, the men's downhill, live at 11 a.m. from Whistler, right in your own time zone, on NBC, you're a hopeless dreamer. Odds are you'll see it on the prime-time show, sometime after 7:30 p.m. About eight hours later. And a full three hours after all your buddies on the East Coast have already seen it, commented on Twitter, discussed it with their kids and watched it two or three more times on TiVo.

And they do this why? Because it's what you want, NBC says. They've got market research to prove it. YOU want to watch major sports half a day old, because prime time is the only time you're capable of plunking down to watch. And yep, that includes weekends.

We offer our usual response, which as usual will be ignored: If NBC really believes most people want to be spoon fed by Bob Costas only after dark, but knows that some other malcontents prefer to watch sports live, why not do both? Use a second-rate cable network to put morning events on in the morning. Don't worry about people finding it and making the time. Even out here in the West, most of us can carve out time to clamber off our horse and find live skiing in the TV grid.

It'd be a win-win. The reality TV crowd could still open up the face slit in their Slanket for the daily prime-time feeding by NBC's distinguished cast of hyperventilators. And it'll never happen under Dick Ebersol's NBC. Which is another good reason to give the Olympic contract to a network that treats the Olympics as a live event, not schlock content to be repackaged at its own convenience.

Figure skating TV schedule

Here's NBC's lineup for what's left of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, dragged mercilessly over two weekends this year:

• Saturday, Jan. 23, 3-6 p.m. ET — Free Dance (Live), Ladies Short

• Saturday, Jan. 23, 9-11 p.m. ET/PT — Ladies Free Skate (3-hour delayed to West Coast)

• Sunday, Jan. 24, 4-6 p.m. ET — Recap of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships

• Sunday, Jan. 24, 9-11 p.m. ET/PT — Exhibition of Champions and announcement of U.S. Olympic Team

Midweek coverage is available on the Universal Sports network. Check your local listings.

The 2010 Winter Games will be the seventh covered by Ron Judd, author of the keepsake guide "The Winter Olympics: An Insider's Guide To The Legends, The Lore, And The Games." Reach him at 206-464-8280 or rjudd@seattletimes.com

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