Photo/IllutrationTwo people bundled up against the cold are the only spectators watching a ski jumping event in Pyeongchang, South Korea, a little past midnight on Feb. 11. (The Asahi Shimbun)

While covering the Pyeongchang Olympics, I constantly heard complaints about the times when events were held.

"I feel so bad for athletes who can't compete during the daytime," one person said.

Another lamented, "In the morning or at night, the spectator areas feel like you are sitting in a freezer."

Some ski jumping events continued past midnight, while curling sometimes started between 8 and 9 in the morning.

I heard that late-night events were for the benefit of European TV stations, and early-morning events for North American broadcasters.

In particular, NBC in the United States seems to stand out in its power in dictating event times.

By paying for the U.S. broadcasting rights to 10 Summer Olympics and the same number of Winter Olympics, NBC accounts for 40 percent of the International Olympic Committee's revenue.

South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo said: "With the Olympics, it's 'NBC first.' NBC is the most prized customer, having paid a rough equivalent of the total amount of money paid by dozens of South Korean companies."

The newspaper went on to note that aside from calling the shots on event times, NBC also has priority when interviewing athletes and booking hotels for its staff.

It has been quite some time since the extent of NBC's influence has taken people aback.

At the Seoul Olympics 30 years ago, the start time of the men's 100 meters--the most popular track-and-field event--was moved up. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, swimming competitions were held in the morning.

And two years ago at Rio, NBC demanded that the IOC delay the U.S. team's entry into the arena for the Opening Ceremony. A U.S. newspaper criticized NBC, claiming the demand was to ensure a good viewer rating at home.

Of course, the IOC tries its best to accommodate the requests of all countries and athletic organizations. But at Pyeongchang, the people of South Korea were left with the strong impression that U.S. TV viewers received priority over the athletes themselves.

I am fully aware that the Olympics cannot take place without enormous fees for broadcasting rights, but I wish for a reversion to an "athletes first" operation at the Tokyo Olympics two years from now.

I certainly would not want to watch a soccer match going on past midnight or a baseball game starting at dawn.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 26

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.