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.
BREAKING: USA wins gold medal in synchronized NBC bashing. Tune in to NBC tomorrow for coverage of the event. #NBCfail—
Mark Jaquith (@markjaquith) July 30, 2012
And again I will walk the tedious tightrope of being plugged into social media today WITHOUT having all the Olympics headlines spoiled.—
Luke Sinak (@lukesinak) July 30, 2012
I guess if I don't want Olympics results spoiled I have to not use FB & Twitter, stop reading/watching news, & cut myself off from society—
Dylan Conn (@dylanconn) July 30, 2012
In a wired world, tape delay ruins the possibility of global solidarity at one of the few moments that promise it. #NBCFail—
Hugo Schwyzer (@hugoschwyzer) July 28, 2012
Context: NBC's ideal viewer is someone who doesn't get sports text alerts, doesn't appointment stream or get on Twitter.—
darren rovell (@darrenrovell) July 28, 2012
The Ginge (@GingeFC) July 29, 2012
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.
ON NBC NOW: Carl Lewis will, in likely his last Olympics, attempt to break the long jump world record and win gold #1996—
NBC Delayed (@NBCDelayed) July 30, 2012
Proof our tape delayed broadcasting model is working? Over 3,000 new twitter followers in an hour #NBCFail—
NBC Delayed (@NBCDelayed) July 29, 2012
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.
@MomInStL I have confirmed with my colleagues that a spoiler alert will be given. Thank you.—
Jim Bell (@jfb) July 29, 2012
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.
It's 2012, why can't I just pay a one-time fee and watch whatever I want from Olympic? #NBCFail—
Xiao Ma (@xiaoma) July 28, 2012
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.