Proclaiming it “a miracle that American viewers pay attention to the Winter Olympics at all,”, The New York Times’ Richard Sandomir writes that NBC’s ability to attact 21 million viewers a night is “a testament to NBC’s storytelling, the power of hype (though this time less potent than usual) and a strange quadrennial routine practiced by viewers these past 40 years. Somehow, they watch, as if the sports they formerly ignored had grown hundredfold in stature.”

Warning that “electronic breakthroughs will further fragment viewer attention spans, and make people wonder just why they watched the Winter Games at all.”, Sandomir makes the following suggestions for future telecasts :

* – Embrace pay-per-view, or at least study it. Let viewers pay to see live what NBC tapes for prime time. There are already lots of live events on cable, and a pay-per-view model might please some fans, especially figure skating’s. NBC would, of course, have to determine if such a plan would deprive its prime-time program of a significant number of viewers.

In Vancouver, women’s figure skating might start in the afternoon, so it would be held for prime time. Would the real fans want a peek at the world feed before NBC takes hold of it? Would NBC even allow it?

* – Accelerate the interactivity that it is being tested on eight Time Warner cable systems with technology from BIAP Systems. Digital subscribers can press their remotes to view medal counts, athlete biographies and news about the United States team, but the technology exists to let viewers buy video clips and vote midrace on who will win.

Winston Churchill, the chairman of BIAP (and no relation to the former British prime minister), said by telephone: “When the viewer feels like they’re in the vent, it will conquer passivity from the sofa.”

The PPV proposition sounds strangely reminiscent of the Barcelona Triplecast. The multiple interactive functions, not dissimilar from Sky Digital’s pretend-you’re-on-the-web array of features, can be a fun distraction, but I seriously doubt they’ve done much to boost the Murdoch property’s ratings for football or rugby beyond what they would’ve been without such bells and whistles.