Re-Constructing the Map, Revisited: NBC’s Geographic Imagination in the 2014 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony

A couple of years ago, during the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, I got the crazy idea to map seconds of coverage of each delegation when I saw NBC constantly cut away from lesser known countries after just a few seconds as compression editing for the tape-delayed broadcast.

My friend and colleague, Emily Fekete at the University of Kansas, prodded me to explore it further in a published collaboration.

Now, with the beginning of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, we’ve joined with Don Colley III of San Diego State to begin working on analyzing various geographic aspects of the game, starting first with the coverage provided by NBC of the Opening Ceremony. We’re hoping this will result in a multifaceted analysis of various geographies found in the Olympic Games.


Remember When? NBC’s 2012 Opening Ceremony, Mapped

In our forthcoming paper in Sociological Research Online, we analyzed the 2012 Opening Ceremony broadcast by American network NBC, remapping the countries based on the number of seconds each delegation was shown during the ceremony’s “Parade of Nations.” We argued that NBC’s editing of the tape-delayed broadcast constructed a worldview for the viewing audience, which we called “NBC’s Geographic Imagination,” and called for needed further exploration of NBC’s otherwise unmapped “map.”

To support the paper, we “re-constructed” two different maps based on the times NBC displayed each delegation. For each, the white-to-black color ramp was used so that countries appearing less on the broadcast faded into the background, just as they theoretically would in the larger American consciousness thanks to NBC’s editing. The first map displayed the number of seconds each delegation during the NBC broadcast, showing the raw number of seconds that NBC exposed the American viewing audience to each country:



The second map normalized this data with the number of athletes in each delegation, accounting for parade logistics by which more people take longer to march past a given point.



Ultimately, I found the second map map less interesting because so many smaller delegations, and hence smaller denominators in the calculations, “spiked” the data, even if the athletes were on-screen for only a few seconds. We didn’t intend this map to speak to the “awareness” angle, only to answer the most common question that came after readers saw the first map.

Of course, creating maps for Sochi’s ceremony came with some other challenges.


Re-Constructing the Map, Again: NBC’s 2014 Opening Ceremony, Mapped

Creating the same maps for the 2014 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony was easy enough from this point. Emily worked hard to record times for each delegation appeared on-screen, which showed some key differences.

In looking at the raw numbers, we noticed a few key differences. For one, the overall distribution of time between the delegations was more equitable. Unlike the 2012 NBC broadcast, when preemption for commercial breaks resulted in nearly dozen delegations receiving fewer than five seconds on screen, the shortest-featured delegation in the 2014 NBC coverage (Belarus) received just over 11 seconds of screen time. The difference in this equity was most noticeable in the second of two maps we constructed to mirror our 2012 analysis.

At the same time, participation in the Winter Olympics was even more strongly divided on a global scale, with countries and athletes from the “Global North” far outnumbering those in the “Global South.” On each map, the divide is evident, with more countries in the “North” showing more seconds on screen, though fewer per athlete, and countries from the “South” largely receiving less screen time, but more time per athlete. (Click any map below for a larger version.)

The first, a map displaying the number of seconds each country was featured in the 2014 NBC broadcast:



Second, the number of seconds each delegation was shown in the 2014 NBC broadcast, divided by the number of athletes in each delegation:



Though some patterns emerge in terms of which countries received more or less time than they might have expected, an important consideration when examining these maps is the difference between the Winter and Summer Olympics. Generally, the Winter Olympics are a smaller event with fewer competitions and far fewer athletes participating than in the Summer Olympics. This is at least partially owed to the fact that the Winter Olympics include a number of sports thus far left largely unadopted by countries situated outside climate zones with cold winters.


Comparing 2012 to 2014, and Summer to Winter

To compare participation in the two “seasons” of Olympic Games, we created several maps. The first map shows the number of participants per country in the 2012 London Summer Games; the second shows the number of participants per country in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.



Though these maps work to display the differing arrangement of participating delegations and do show a far more northward orientation for Winter Games participation, the color ramps aren’t the same on the two maps and so true comparison is somewhat difficult.

To aid with that, we created a third map showing the change in delegation size from the 2012 Summer Games to the 2014 Winter Games.



Notice here, only a few smaller northern delegations actually grew in size (Austria, Norway) while most countries, including Sochi’s largest delegations (Russia, United States) shrunk considerably.

To further highlight the smaller — or in many cases, non-existent — delegations at the Winter Games, we created a map showing the difference in size, by percentage, of each country’s athlete contingent compared to the larger Summer events in 2012. In this case, the countries which did participate in London but are not competing in Sochi show up as the darkest red color.



Because our paper about the 2012 NBC Opening Ceremony broadcast argued the impact of limited exposure of the American audience to certain groups at such global events was unknown, screen time is an important consideration. Certainly, the world presented by all broadcasters at the Winter Olympics ceremony is different than the Summer Games because of the difference of participation by competing countries. But, how did this, combined with NBC’s editing of the ceremony, impact the amount of time each delegation was shown on screen?



While the coverage from NBC was more equitable in terms of raw number of seconds between delegations, a pattern with a different cause emerges here. For the Winter Games, it will be more difficult to understand NBC’s “map” of the world because the “map” presented by the Winter Games and its participants is radically different than that of the Summer Games.

Author: Andrew Shears

Andrew Shears is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. His research interests lie at an intersection of the human-environmental nexus, and includes branches of mapping, technological, memorialization and urban geographies. He lives in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania with his wife Amy, a professional photographer.

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