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)

    What are these Olympics that you speak of CNN?

    July 30, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Demarcus

    I think they have something to do with Michael Jackson or something. That moon walk thing.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. liliankanli

    I am deeply disappointed with NBC's olympic coverage!! We as viewers were robbed of Olympic experiences by NBC's idiot ic scheduling. The big events such as swimming were not broadcasted live. They are saving it for the primetime because of the advertisement money. NBC doesn't care about providing sports entertainment to millions of views.
    What a shame!!!

    July 30, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ron

    Turn off your cell phone for the day. How hard could that be?

    July 30, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Walker

      Some of us have very communication-intensive jobs. Turning off our phone for a day would get us fired.

      July 30, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Hannah

    CNN actually spoiled the men's swimming relay for me last night.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. CJ

    As someone that doesn't pay for cable/dish/fiber TV I don't get the right to even watch the games live on the web...and I have NO interest in watching any of the Olympics on tape so social media and news sites are my only source for Olympic news.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Walker

      Actually, you can pay $12 for a month-long UK VPN proxy that gives you a UK IP address and lets you watch all of the events live via streaming at

      July 30, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. juan

    Big mistake for NBC, who is going to wait for the primetime show when you can see the results 6 hours or more earlier. come one NBC you failed during the last olympics and you are failing now. get a grip and undestand your audience and fix this before it is too late.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • juan

      by the way NBC, you should not call the games the Olympics but the Latelympics. Keep up the good work.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. CoolB

    Easy solution, don't live on twitter or facebook. Take a break and go enjoy the outdoors. This is dumb. Not that I am defending NBC because they are the root of this evil by being complete idiots by tape deyaling live olympic events!!

    July 30, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Andy

    Why not show the events live on TV and onlne, then repeat them at primetime for big money ads/poeople who couldn't watch them live?

    And it was really outrageous that NBC did not show the opening ceremony live, eiethr online or on TV.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Larry

    Grow up, people! The world does not run on US time. If you don't wan't your Olympics "spoiled", then either watch it live, or don't go on FaceBook or Twitter or such until it's over. You cannot have it both ways.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dunlar

      You seem to have missed the point, Larry.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • sharky

      You completely miss the point. NBC is OUR as in the USA broadcasting network. We have the largest athletic team in the Olympics. NBC should be catering to the USA people, in the USA, so we can watch our team compete.

      Your comment lacks intelligence.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Walker

      But that's the point. We CAN'T watch them live unless we have a cable subscription. For those of us without them we have no option but to wait for the spoiled Primetime broadcast or become internet gurus and go all UK VPN with BBC's (insanely good live stream)

      July 30, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Dunlar

    It's not just other media outlets. I was watching NBC nightly news, and they gave away the results of the Lochte/Phelps matchup, before it was broadcast. What the hell?

    July 30, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Rich

    "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." ...Um...isn't Facebook social media???

    July 30, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. warnercc

    NBC can't win on this one. Their coverage is no different then it has been for years and years. If the showed it live, you would be either sleeping or at work and would record it to watch later so what is the difference? If it wasn't when they were showing it, it would be what they chose to show. Anyway you look at it, they can't show it all and anyway you look at it, they can't please everyone. The majority of the people will watch it in the evenings WHEN THEY CAN GET THE HIGHEST ADVERTISING DOLLAR. Otherwise, you wouldn't be getting it at all. Regardless of what most people think, NBC is not a charity. They have to at least try to make money while broadcasting the Olympics.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Walker

      That's such a narrow view of how NBC can profit from the Olympics. Broadcasting events live throughout the day and then offering the Primetime recap gives them the best of both worlds. On top of that, offering a livestream option or alternative for people that DON'T have cable would mean they're tapping an audience that's otherwise turned off by their coverage completely.

      July 30, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Cody

    Do these people who complain realize that if everything were shown live, there wouldn't be anything on TV past 4 or 5 pm every day?? Don't get me wrong, I love the Olympics, but I'm not getting up at 4 am or taking off work to watch all the events.... Good coverage NBC. This is the world we live in now... get used to it.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Walker

      Who cares if there's not anything on past 4 or 5 pm. The point is not to ONLY do a live broadcast but to also offer the Primetime recap for people who want to watch it that way. Restricting people to an outmoded viewing model is NOT the modern way, that's a narrow line of thinking. NBC should learn from the countless other businesses who've discovered that offering the most possible ways of viewing/buying is the best and most profitable model.

      July 30, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jbmccoll

    Hate the coverage, but watch it anyway, even knowing the results. Too many interviews and back stories.....ok, I get it, you overcame asthma/ diabetes/car accident etc, now get on with it. Should be live, I will get up early to watch big sporting events. But, in their defense, I have to commend NBC for closing their first prime time broadcast with the medal ceremony and national anthem for the Australian women's relay team at the swimming......very classy ( given that typically yo would think it was only US athletes competing!)

    July 30, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
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