Has NBC lost its moral compass?

US network, NBC has been taking a battering lately. Its decision to time-delay the events at the London Olympics came in for heavy criticism among viewers who obviously saw the results live over social channels. However irritating, this was clearly a considered scheduling decision which given the record-breaking viewership numbers (219m vs 215m for Beijing), some may think justified.

More perplexing, have been missteps which seem avoidable. First the editing out of the tribute to the July 7 London bombings from the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics. Instead, NBC broadcast an interview with light entertainment host, Ryan Seacrest and US Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps.

Second, the scant attention given to the London Paralympics, which amounted to four hour-long programs, plus a 90-minute round-up (to be shown on September 16). No live broadcasts at all. This incensed even the International Paralympic Committee, with president Sir Philip Craven telling the BBC: “We’ll examine their values as they will examine ours. If the values fit, we’ve got a chance. If they don’t we’ll go somewhere else.”

And yesterday, NBC opted not to broadcast a moment of silence for the victims of 9/11, like the other networks. Instead, viewers enjoyed an interview about breast implants with Kris Jenner, the mother of the Kardashians.

This gives the impression that NBC has lost its moral compass. These topics are clearly sensitive and perhaps not warm-and-fuzzy mainstream entertainment, but they are important. The programing decisions NBC has made, appear to show it is out of step with its audiences. The result means it’s facing a rear-guard communications crisis where it has to justify such decisions as not honoring the 9/11 victims. You can’t win that debate.

The lesson for organizations here is to anticipate the reaction to commercial decisions. The radar needs to be switched on. Will decisions withstand the scrutiny of public opinion? What do they say about us as an organization? That doesn’t mean decisions need to be popular – Chik-Fil-A shows us that. But they do need to be consistent with the organization’s values.

[This post first appeared at my agency blog, LEWIS 360.]

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