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. matt

    Honestly, it doesn't matter one way or another to me. I could probably sum up everything I know about this year's olympics in one sentence (the meat of the sentence would emphasize that they have actually begun.)

    And I'm OK with it. Yes, if I actually had a few hours to kill, I might watch the Olympics. But I don't. So it's a moot point. Unless I happen to be hospitalized before the end of the 2 weeks (they last 2 weeks – right?) I'm sure my total time spent watching these olympics will be well under 15 minutes.

    When they were in my back yard, (I went to three events – walking 6 blocks to one of them) I "cared" a little bit, but I attended more events than I watched. By far.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  2. sfebz

    What a odd picture for CNN to choose with 2 chinese guys practically naked in midair. hmmmmmmm

    July 30, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Johnson

    This is the first time I haven't watched much of it. We never know what is playing and it jumps from one to another. We have no interest whatsoever in Beach Volleyball or some of the other Team sports.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bleue

    Since I watch it all on DVR to catch up with 11-hour sessions, I'd rather it be broadcast Live to eliminate any conflicts between those watching Live and not wanting spoilers, and those who watch it recorded. Why mix the two?

    July 30, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • KBG263

      Yes, exactly. Love the olympics, always dread the coverage.

      July 30, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. jobdespair

    Leave it to CNN to be okay with this corporate idiocy.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Boo

    I'm watching the tennis on Bravo....AND IT IS LIVE so I am happy.....

    July 30, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. KBG263

    Tape delay always sucks, and so do the personal stories. Just give me the events, and only the events when they happen.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dave

    "Fans asked to tweet only if it's urgent."

    Translation: don't do anything that makes it obvious how terrible our reporting/coverage of the Olympics really is. It's embarrassing to be rendered completely useless by technology in such an obvious, world-stage sort of way.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Alfreds Mom

    I love the fact that I can find the results out before....that was I don't have to stay up so late! I will stay and watch if I know who wins, then I can see it, and watch them get their medals. Otherwise, I am too pooped for work the next day. Keep the rersults coming!

    July 30, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Shelby

    It should be played live! I hate reading results on Twitter and other social media before the race is even broadcasted on TV!

    July 30, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Cheryl

    Overwhelmingly I'd much rather see it live!!!!

    July 30, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Alex

    In this age of instant everything, I am surprised (and disappointed) that NBC chose to tape-delay the Olympics. Most of the huge upsets are old news by the time I watch the corresponding event, and by then, what's the point of watching at all?

    July 30, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ed G.

    Ask yourselves this? Do you log on to facebook/twitter et al to tell your friends the end of the movie you just watched? You probably don't. Then why would you tell people who won a medal before your friends have seen it? It's easy to avoid spoilers if you don't go to the sites that provide them. If you go to the sports page, then you know they're going to talk about results. Don't go there. If you really need to knowwho won the ball game last night, go to the league page.

    If you have a job, you won't be able to watch anything live. If you're at home then NBC has the network/Bravo/CNBC/MSNBC/NBCSports and maybe even more to choose from, all spewing live coverage. How can anyone actually say that NBC is not providing enough coverage.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  14. cyber

    Olympics? A waste of time

    July 30, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  15. RichardP7766

    If people are unable to disconnect from social media and the digital world, then why not just watch the events live online? You're already online....just watch them! The opportunity is there to watch these events live, but you're choosing not too. You have choice, but you complain?

    July 30, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
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