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There’s too much Olympics online, which is why TV programming is still a good idea

What is the 10 meter air rifle?

Netherlands v Venezuela - Beach Volleyball - Olympics: Day 1 Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

I like the Olympics. I like watching the Olympics. It’s not just the competition. It’s the finality of winning a gold medal that's elementally satisfying, even when the sport itself may be marginal, or unusual, or even a little ridiculous.

For example, you might not have known or cared there was something called the 10 meter air rifle competition (why exactly 10 meters?), but the fact that someone (this time, an American) won a gold medal in the thing might offer a touch of catharsis.

But by Day 1 of the Rio Olympics (broadcast by NBC in the U.S.) it’s clear there’s just way too much content.

Shooting - Olympics: Day 1
Virginia Thrasher won gold in the 10m Air Rifle
Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The issue isn’t the ready availability of ways to watch the Olympics (here’s a helpful guide), which is generally a good idea for NBC since it paid more than $4.3 billion for the rights to air and sell commercials.

The problem is the oceans of content NBC* is making available. The network, owned by Comcast, says it’ll stream more than 4,500 hours of competition, more than at any time in the history of the Olympics.

That seemed like a cool idea, and it prompted me to take advantage of NBC’s Olympics app on my Roku.

In addition to the 10 meter air rifle, I scrolled through some other events on the app that while a little less esoteric was still mystifying — like fencing.

Women’s epee features a lot of jumping back and forth, which I get, but there’s also a lot of screaming, which I didn’t. (Is it a way to lobby the ref for the point?)

Fencing - Olympics: Day 1 Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

The problem is that it was a raw feed, so while the app can show you almost any event, it doesn’t program the event for you.

In the case of women’s epee, it was a single-camera longshot of two people in masks pointing and screaming. The lack of close-ups or editing made it look like a security camera feed. It was bizarre to watch and unsatisfying.

Streaming content can get costly, at least in terms of the technology and the bandwidth needed, and in the case of NBC, parent company Comcast saw this as an opportunity to show off the features of its X1 set top box, so there was a business rationale to the effort.

But in this case I suspect it was done as much in service to one of the more misguided credos of the internet: Everything should be put online.

The more rabid corners of the web still howl over any cutbacks to content, calling such moves censorship or even selfish greed, but regular people don’t actually want a river of raw video.

People want set-up and drama and narrative — especially when it comes to unusual events like the 10 meter air rifle, or fencing, or whatever suits your particular Olympics whimsy (curling, Winter).

Television programming is an art and it’s expensive. It requires human anchors who can contextualize what you’re seeing on screen. Marquee events (swimming, track and field, gymnastics) will get all the programming muscle that’s expected, but NBC isn’t going to apply that same level of production to thousands of hours of content, which makes you wonder why they’re showing any of it at all.

That’s okay, because NBC is still pretty good at traditional programming, which is why people still watch TV despite the fact more of them are thumbing through their phones.

But if you’re going to put stuff online, it’d be good to try and explain it. People aren’t going to sit through hours of rough sports feeds, no matter how engrossed they may be over a specific event.

Of course, all of this may just be my way of saying I need someone to explain the 10 meter air rifle to me.

*NBCUniversal is a minority investor in Recode parent company Vox Media.

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