Olympics / Summer Olympics

Mark Wilson on the terrible UX of Olympic broadcasting

Writer Mark Wilson wrote about the UX nightmare of watching the Olympics during Tokyo 2020.

I love the Olympics. That is, when I can find them.

In the United States, watching the Games this year has been a logistical nightmare. The difficultly in figuring out which events are happening when, and how to watch them, undermines the 7,000 hours of otherwise carefully planned competition.

America’s roughly 13-hour time difference with Tokyo doesn’t help. But the problems are exacerbated by a complicated circle of broadcast rights, coupled with a strange combination of real-time coverage, prime-time replays, and sports streamed across a handful of different services.

Wilson hones in on the scheduling UX used by broadcasters such as NBC Sports and Xfinity. Sports streaming isn’t accessible to everyone so it’s important to make it as open as possible. But that’s not been the case here, as he extols the virtues of sporting serendipity:

Streaming makes you choose your own destiny, re-creating that same feeling of staring at a wall of content in your Netflix queue, uncertain of what to watch next. “They’re using all the same interface structures and conceptual models for [Olympics] content that people just don’t consume that way,” [Jesse James] Garrett adds. “You can tell in the design of these [streaming] services . . . they shovel as much content in front of you as possible until you finally submit and click play on something. They’re not particularly interested in getting you to the best possible thing.”

I’ve watched one Olympic event this year (the women’s 100m final) so I’ve not had to experience any of these UX issues. However, they aren’t specific to sports streaming. Scheduling UX is an issue on smart TVs whether you’re trying to find the right show to watch or just want to look through the TV guide. So many buttons, so little time and attention span. The challenge is more acute for an event that happens once every 4 years (bar any more pandemics).

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