Live or later: What's your ideal Olympics coverage?
A wartime appeal for Britons to maintain a stiff upper lip has morphed into a myriad of Olympic memes. NBC is the target here.
July 30th, 2012
12:17 PM ET

Live or later: What's your ideal Olympics coverage?

Which Olympic viewer are you? The one who wants to know what happens live when the rest of the world does? Or the one who enjoys NBC's prime-time mashup, with the best event shown in the United States hours after medals have been awarded in Britain?

If you're the latter, you've probably been thrilled with the London 2012 Games coverage.

But if you're the former, you might have been among the thousands railing over the weekend against NBC for not understanding the digital age in which spoilers trickle through every nook of the Internet before the event you've been waiting four years to see finally airs.

As a wired (and wireless) society, now even more so than during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the tactic of using a tape delay to save the best events for nighttime viewers also the most lucrative audience for NBC has become harder to pull off.

Yes, NBC is airing all the events live online if you have a cable provider. But if you miss that showing, log on to Facebook, check your favorite news site or heaven forbid check social media, you're bound to catch a spoiler. Mostly, that's because NBC does not show many marquee events until about five hours after they've happened.  (We should note this debate occurs regularly when East Coast viewers spoil finales or award shows for the West Coast.)

The tape delay of events on TV and the resulting online spoilers have led to a massive outcry from the Twitterverse and given the aggrieved a place to lodge their complaints. The spoiler problem has also spawned its own hashtag to make the point clear.

In the minds of a growing number of digital users, the Olympics have been a big #NBCfail. And folks online are making sure NBC knows how they feel.

The hashtag was so popular, it is no surprise that a parody account, @NBCDelayed, popped up so quickly, tweeting unbelievably old headlines about prior Olympics to beat the network over the head about how annoyed viewers were.

As of Monday morning, that account had accumulated more than 15,000 followers.

That's not to say there aren't many people who are thrilled with NBC's coverage. The record-setting viewership proves it, and people are tuning in at unbelievable rates.

Saturday night's lineup, which included the heavily spoiled,  top-billed men's 400-meter individual medley pitting Michael Phelps head-to-head with Ryan Lochte, pulled in an average of 28.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen, the highest ever for the first night of Olympic competition.

That race had not only been spoiled by Twitter alerts from practically every sports and news website but also by the traditional evening newscasts.

So, are Americans tuning in because it's the way most want to see the Olympics? Os it because viewers may already know the results, but they want to see how it all unfolds? Or maybe it's because they already set the DVR on the way out the door? Or maybe they still want to see the packaged deal with all-inclusive profiles about the Olympians that makes our (OK, at least my) eyes well up with tears?

It seems that NBC is caught between a rock and a hard place. It has offered a way to see all events live but clearly not in a way all viewers want it. Some argue that those who do watch the Games live will inevitably spoil it for those who are waiting. Others want folks to quit their whining and acknowledge all of what NBC has offered.

"Not everyone is online all the time all day long. For those people, a nicely curated, best-of package at night is awesome. Even for those of us that are online, it's still pretty cool to see how things happen. Sports are better seen than read," Jay Yarow wrote on  Business Insider. "For the rest of you, it's live-streamed online. Go nuts watching it. There is nothing stopping you."

But in a world of DVRs, where users are accustomed to being in control, both sides bring up interesting points. And with NBC locking down the Olympics contract for the near future at least, it surely will lead to further discussion about how live events should be aired at subsequent Games. That's not just for the Olympics but also other major sporting events and awards shows.

Meanwhile, for now #NBCfail is still going strong. And while the network seems happy with Olympic viewership, it also isn't ignoring the loud chatter.

In response to the complaints, the executive producer for NBC's Olympic coverage waded into the deep end of the Twitter pool to assuage the angry masses.  Jim Bell tried to tell people when they could catch live events online to avoid spoilers and also even took a suggestion from a viewer after the nightly news spoiler.

Media critic Jeff Jarvis heavily engaged Twitter users about what an Olympic utopia might look like. In a post explaining his view of the future, he posed the idea of what it might look like if Google were leading the Olympic coverage.

He wrote he can see a way that outraged tweeting might be a tool to help bring viewers to a prime-time show when they know something big is going to happen.

"I can easily imagine people watching the Phelps defeat live tweeting their heads off telling their friends to watch it in prime time," Jarvis wrote.

But that's only a small part of it. The large, and more important issue, is trying to figure out how to serve all types of viewers, he said.

"The problem for NBC, as for other media, is that it is trying to preserve old business models in a new reality," he wrote. "To experiment with alternatives when billions are at stake is risky. But so is not experimenting and not learning when millions of your viewers can complain about you on Twitter."

One Twitter user suggested a solution: Treat it like a pay-per-view event.

What do you think of NBC's coverage? Vote in the poll below and let us know in the comments as well as what your ideal Olympics coverage would look like.

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Filed under: Olympics • Sports
soundoff (512 Responses)
  1. Jerry Koch

    All I can say is that Volleyball-especially beach volleyball is boring beyond belief. Serve-set slam! Boring! Volleyball is not a sport and it should get no coverage period! Eliminate it from he Olympics please!

    August 1, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Ariel

    Olympic coverage has been very disappointing and frustrating! In addition, the equestrian coverage is the worst of any Olympics on record. Both the horse and rider are athletes - perfection takes years of training and dedication, yet coverage is an after thought at best.

    August 6, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. ralph

    Don't blame NBC, the fault lies with the IOC. When you allow one company to monopolize a venue, then what you see is the NBC broadcasts. Forget about time zone differences and other excuses. If there were other stations, even foreign, ones, US viewers would watch. Hence, the real idiots are the ones that decided to give sole televising rights to only one company. IMHO, the Big O should be televised by a minimum of three stations from each nation.

    August 13, 2012 at 9:43 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Rachael

    Live – and not all cutting from one event to another. NBC has like 8 channels they can use to show live sports. What appeals to one person may not to another. But I think it would have been interesting to see some of the other countries compete too. NBC cut it up so we saw mostly just the Americans competing.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:01 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Rosie Rosenzweig

    I am searching for the YOutube editions of the closing ceremonies. Why are they not online?
    If someone knows otherwise, please inform.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Laura

    Having the events available live doesn't mean they won't be watched in prime time. Who has time to watch TV all day long? BUT the evening coverage should be 7-11pm instead so that more people would be able to watch it until the end.

    August 13, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Donald

    The 3 networks are more about how many commercials they can push, then about good coverage of events, with NBC being the worst. Matt Lauer sucks and has been around to the point he has become insensitive to others. NBC is just one example of whats wrong in America's business environment. They are so into how much profit they will derive, they have forgotten the viewers.

    August 13, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Calli

    Not only should they be broadcast live on TV, but they should be put on the internet, for free, for the whole world to see. I haven't had cable TV for years due to there being no good cable TV programs on, and the ones I do want to watch I can do so on Netflix and Hulu. However, you need to have cable tv in order to watch them streaming on NBC.

    Shouldn't a celebration of world peace be viewable by all the world? Shouldn't more than just NBC be given broadcasting rights? The corporate conglomerate culture of America needs to be taken down.

    August 13, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. DooDaa

    It happens ONCE every 4 years (OK with Winter Olympics it quasi happens every 2 years) . . . with as many NBC-ish networks as there are MS-NBC, NBC-Sports, NBC, etc. there could be an all-pleasing combination, and regular viewers would have to be evaluated as "so, do you watch the Olympics?" and if not enough say "why yes I do," then there would be argument for not interrupting regular shows . . . for those who wish to view it "live," get your happy hind-end up in the wee hours of the morning to watch Live, those who want to watch during Prime Time, pay attention to the cheezy "ok, turn away" stuff, and watch the delayed stuff, and be happy with that 'cause love, nor money, can change the fact that the games were more than 6-hours difference from EST. However, I doubt they have enough stations to cover all events in real time, so for those who plan on watching Dressage, or Curling, or Speed Walking, (less popular . . . sorry, I know I'm steppin' on toes here) may jus' have to await a delayed broadcast . . .

    August 13, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. EricJ in Seattle

    The BBC website coverage of the Olympics was absolutely spectacular. For the first time in decades I was able to see every single event I wanted (live or "catchup" as they call it) without commercials, and with respectful and listenable commentary.

    August 14, 2012 at 7:55 am | Report abuse | Reply
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    August 19, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Gopherit

    We have cable TV and NBC aired many events live on its cable channels. I watched most of the football (soccer) and NBC's coverage of most if not all that they showed was live. My objection regading football was that after showing the first,non-knockout stage matches it did not show much of the knockout part of the tornament and did not resume coverage until the semifinals. It was annoying that sometimes match and event coverage was interrupted for adverts, including some for NBC's other programs.

    For many of the other events there was both live and delayed coverage. But having lived in the U.K. and had BBC Olympics coverage on two channels with no interruptions for adverts the NBC presentations sometimes were aggravating.

    August 20, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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