Americans don’t want to watch the Paralympic Games – at least that’s what NBC thinks. The TV network will show only five and a half hours of Paralympic action in the U.S.
Over in the U.K., Channel 4 plans to broadcast 150 hours of the games, which began yesterday and end September 9th. Nations like Australia, Germany and South Africa will also broadcast tens of hours of the games, many of them live.
What’s going on here? American law is generally pretty friendly to the disabled, and public buildings must be handicap accessible. The South African runner Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee known as “Blade Runner,” got lots of attention in the U.S. by participating in the London Olympics. He’ll also be running in the Paralympics.
David Goldblatt, a sports historian who’s written a book on the Olympics, thinks he knows the answer. “My guess is: follow the money. NBC gave the Olympics wall-to-wall coverage, but they don’t believe they can get the kind of ratings [for the Paralympics] that they need to justify a large amount of coverage.”
That’s a shame, Goldblatt says. He pointed to a variety of sports that might attract a U.S. audience, including rough-and-tumble wheelchair rugby, also known as “murder-ball.”
Maybe it’s just a question of marketing. To promote its Paralympic coverage, Britain’s Channel 4 has unveiled a sexy new TV ad complete with a soundtrack featuring 2007 music by Public Enemy. In the past, Goldblatt says, promoting the Paralympics has been a delicate affair. “Everyone’s been slightly mute and respectful. Their attitude is: ‘We must look but not stare.’”
Channel 4’s commercial takes a much bolder approach, according to Goldblatt. “It’s filmed in an action movie-style, very well done—a ballsy, high-energy, in-your-face way of going about it. They’re really saying: ‘Bloody hell! This is amazing! Forget everything you know about the human body: it’s time to meet the super humans!’”
Midway through, the ad abruptly cuts to footage of an IED exploding behind several soldiers, then flashes to an ultrasound of a fetus, and then to a car flipping over on the highway. It’s a chilling reminder of how these athletes came to be eligible for the games in the first place.
Somehow, we doubt NBC will be as daring in its promotion (after all, their widely panned coverage of the Olympics led to the infamous Twitter hashtag #NBCfail). But maybe, with pressure from advertisers and consumers, the next Paralympic games will get more airtime in America: Visa and General Electric are starting to produce patriotic spots that feature disabled military veterans who’ve become Paralympic athletes.
You can watch Channel 4′s “Meet the Superhumans” here.
And yet for all of the network’s good promotional work, Britons are angry at how Channel 4 is covering the actual event. Wednesday night’s Paralympic opening ceremony was repeatedly interrupted by commercial breaks. “Wish the BBC had the #paralympic coverage as well,” one user tweeted, according to the Daily Mail. “Their coverage of the [Olympic] games was superb. The ad breaks on ch4 are going to get on my wick!”