UC Professor Studies Olympic Broadcasts

MacArthur's Studies Find NBC Telecasts Emphasize American and Male Athletes

Written By Rocco Suppa '11, PR Intern

MacArthur, colleagues will analyze Olympic coverage for biases


Utica, NY (07/19/2012)
- Paul J. MacArthur will be watching the Olympics closely, but not to see who wins or loses.

MacArthur, associate professor of public relations at Utica College, will research both NBC’s and the BBC’s prime time telecasts of the 2012 London Games, which begin July 27.

Along with his colleagues, James Angelini of the University of Delaware and Andy Billings of the University of Alabama, MacArthur will record all 17 nights of the NBC broadcast network’s prime time coverage, code the commentary of the network’s announcers across 16 different categories, note every time an NBC announcer mentions an athlete by name and time the amount of coverage dedicated to each sport. This data will then be examined to determine how the network presents athletes based on gender, nationality and ethnicity. MacArthur and his colleagues will do the same with the BBC’s Olympic telecast.

The scholars are examining NBC’s prime time Olympic telecast because it draws the highest ratings for NBCUniversal and has been described by NBC as its flagship program. Similarly, the BBC is the sole television rights holder for the 2012 Games in the United Kingdom.

“With the games based in London, the BBC’s telecast will most likely favor United Kingdom athletes,” MacArthur said.

“Whether the BBC will do so in the same manner and to same degree that NBC favors American athletes is something we will be examining.”

This is not the first time MacArthur and his counterparts have delved into this form of Olympic research. The authors recently published two studies examining how the NBC broadcast network portrayed athletes during its 2010 prime time Winter Olympics telecast. The studies specifically focused on gender and nationalism.

The first study, “What’s the Gendered Story? Vancouver’s Prime Time Olympic Glory on NBC,” recently published in the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, examined NBC’s treatment of male and female athletes. The study found:
• 75 percent of the 20 most-mentioned athletes were male, including eight of the top ten.
• Male athletes received 63.7 percent of the athlete mentions by NBC’s announcers.
• Male athletes received 62.2 percent of the clock time, when mixed paired events such as ice dancing were excluded.
• Female athletes were more likely to be described as succeeding due to courage.
• Male athletes were more likely to be described as succeeding due to experience.
• Female athletes were more likely to be described as failing due to a lack of commitment.
• Female athletes were more likely to be described as emotional.
• Male athletes were more likely to be described as outgoing/extroverted.

According to MacArthur, male Olympic athletes are often the center of attention for the network. “NBC’s focus on men in 2010 follows a trend of previous Winter Olympic telecasts, which tend to skew more male than the network’s coverage of the Summer Games,” MacArthur said. “This may be partially due to the fact that American men have been consistently winning more medals in the Winter Games than American women.”

The second study, “The Nationalistic Revolution Will Be Televised: The 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games on NBC,” recently published in the International Journal of Sports Communication, focused on NBC’s treatment of American and non-American athletes. The study found:
• American athletes received 42.3 percent of the mentions by NBC, despite winning only 14.3 percent of the medals and only 10.5 percent of the gold medals.
• 60 percent of the top 20 most mentioned athletes were American, including eight of the top ten.
• American athletes were more likely to be described as succeeding due to commitment, intelligence and athletic consonance.
• American athletes were more likely to be described as failing due to a lack of athletic consonance.
• Non-American athletes were more likely to be described as failing due to a lack of athletic strength and a lack of athletic skill.
• American athletes were more likely to be described as being outgoing/extroverted.
• Non-American athletes were more likely to receive comments about their size and body parts.

According to MacArthur, the heavy emphasis on American athletes can result in a distorted presentation of history. “The most successful athlete of the 2010 Olympics was Marit Bjørgen of Norway, yet she was virtually invisible on NBC’s prime time telecast,” MacArthur said. “The phenomenon of a home country over-emphasizing its own athletes in the media predates television and is not unique to the United States. But, when NBC does this at the expense of successful non-American athletes, it exaggerates Team USA’s importance on the international athletic stage.”

In addition to the 2010 Olympic studies, MacArthur co-authored “Superpowers on the Olympic Basketball Court: U.S. v. China Through Four Nationalistic Lenses” with Billings, Simon Licen and Wu Dan in 2009. This study, published in the International Journal of Sport Communication, compared and contrasted the U.S., Chinese, Canadian and Slovenian telecasts of the USA vs. China 2008 Olympic basketball game.

About Paul J. MacArthur – Paul J. MacArthur’s writings have been featured in several publications, including, Skiing Heritage: The Journal of the International Skiing History Association, Northwest Airlines WorldTraveler, Snowboard Trade News, Future Snowboarding, Down Beat, The Houston Press and VERMONT Magazine. He recently served as a consultant for The Roots of a Movement: Colorado Snowboard Archive exhibit, which is on display at the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum in Vail, Colorado. MacArthur is chair of the Public Relations and Journalism department at Utica College and heads its sports communication program.

About Utica College – Utica College, founded in 1946, is a comprehensive private institution offering bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. The college, located in upstate central New York, approximately 90 miles west of Albany and 50 miles east of Syracuse, currently enrolls over 3,700 students in 37 undergraduate majors, 27 minors, 22 master’s and two doctoral degree programs.



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