ESPN didn't exactly break its back to cover the Olympics, if you'll recall. That was understandable, in a way. NBC's insanely restrictive rules meant that ESPN couldn't show Olympic highlights until the wee hours, after NBC's (tape-delayed) coverage had ended, which meant that SportsCenter had to settle for still photos.
A highlight package without highlights is tough to pull off; a highlight package almost 12 hours after the actual event is just bad TV. NBC managed to screw enough things up that people didn't need any other villains. But one nugget from this BusinessWeek story makes ESPN's decision a little more difficult to justify:
NBC blocked rivals from showing any video highlights until 2 a.m. the next day, causing ESPN to either downplay the Olympics or resort to such stop-gap measures as showing still photographs when reporting on Usain Bolt's gold-medal-winning sprints. "That doesn't look good in a race that takes less than 10 seconds anyway," says McHugh. Another producer observes that at 11 p.m., anyone who cares about the Olympics will be watching NBC, so why should ESPN spend much time covering the Olympics?
The Worldwide Leader has spent years fighting the suggestion that its news coverage is dictated by who owns which set of television rights. The not-so-subtle suggestion made by this unnamed producer blithely undercuts all those efforts: If it's not on ESPN, the producer is saying, what does it matter to us?
Ultimately, NBC's rules made it too easy for ESPN be ESPN. With the Olympics unfolding on some other network, the Worldwide Leader was free to focus on what it does best: covering the crap out of Tim Tebow.