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. Chris

    Taped or live, I don't care.

    I wish that we could watch the US compete in all sports (even off the wall ones that I've never seen before) rather than watching France vs Brazil in women's basketball. Why do I want to watch 2 countries play each other, when I'm sure a US olympian is doing something important in another sport?

    July 30, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mallory Simon, CNN News blog editor

      Chris, thanks for commenting. Would you respond positively to a U.S.-dominant live schedule for sports? Would you be willing to pay extra for it? Or just prefer one channel dedicated to live U.S. events?

      July 30, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. laurensmom

    In this day and age of digital, it should be aired live. People want to see things live and if they are not able to, then they can use their DVR to tape it. In Primetime, do a wrap up and show the best of all the live events from that day viewers may have missed. People will still watch.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mr Paul A. Millard

    I don't watch NBC since Matt Lousy had Ann Curry thrown off the Today Show with such disrespect, so I don't care how they do the Olympics, I get my up dates from CNN news !

    July 30, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mary

    I can't wait til they take beach volley ball away as a sport.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Tara

    Watchiong it live online would be an option if their serves would be able to withstand the millions of people trying to see the events live at the same time. Nothing like having the commercials start without problem from scratch every time the feed pauses but you still have to wait anywhere between 30 secs to a couple mins for thw feed to restarts when it gets stuck. Either way...YOU CANT SEE IT LIVE BECAUSE THE RACES ONLY LAST A COUPLE MINS AND YOUR CRAPPY INTERNET FEED CUTS OFF....NBC DO YOU GET IT?!!!???????

    July 30, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tiffany

    Olympics should be shown live on one of the NBC channels at least, as soon as I log on twitter or fb I see all the spoilers. I try to avoid but someone has spoiled my fav events to watch because I am on the westcoast and we see the last of the airings :/

    July 30, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. teesoepke

    it's sports. yawn. get a life.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. josh

    Live due to the fact stations like espn continue to keep us updated live and when we watch the races in prime time we already know the outcome.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Derrick Colon

    In this digital age where results are literally sent to you, you need to be able to watch live. What is so hard about showing it live during the day and re-airing for prime time? NBC is really damaging their reputation over this.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mark

    Reading this article and some of the comments almost makes it seem as if there were no live events at all. There are live events on 3 channels from 4:00 AM until 7:00 PM. Sure, they save the more popular events for the prime time show, but what do you expect? Do you think they're going to show ping pong and badminton during the prime time hours? Because that would be fantastic for ratings.

    Point is, people have jobs, and the majority of them are during the day. People want to see the more popular events so NBC shows them on tape delay. If you don't want to be spoiled, it's not that difficult. You know where the spoilers will be. Just say away from them.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Gretchen

    The coverage of the Olympics should be live. If I want to watch something that is taped that's why I have a DVR. In watching the coverage thus far I feel like I'm missing so many of the events and key moments. Right now we are at the whim of what the advertising driven media industry thinks we should watch. I asked my kids if they were interested in the Olympics and they sloughed off the question like it was just another game on TV. They have no idea the enormity and significance that an Olympic Games holds for the world. If these events were live I would have the opportunity to sit with my children and show them the good and the bad, the boring and the exciting, and most importantly the whole picture. Edited and taped versions of the games present a skewed view of what's important.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Anne

    Live or taped wouldn't matter because I DVR everything and watch when I want to. Results trickling out don't matter either because I am not paying attention to the "drivel" media (e.g., tweets, facebook ).

    But I watched the men's road race yesterday then deleted my Olympics DVR timers and erased the huge number of hours of Olympic coverage I had on my DVR without watching. Why? Because ( 1 ) the "main coverage" is simply too much of what I don't want to watch and not enough of what I do want to watch, ( 2 ) finding what I want on other channels is too complicated, and ( 3 ) the NBC coverage is US-centric ( understandable, but the fact is I am just not interested in the USA aspects of the Olympics ). I'd rather watch excerpts from Sky Sports, though I tire of the media-created flap over empty seats.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. BigBird Johnson

    I think it's disgusting that Americans have to suffer so that NBC can have better ratings. These olympics belong to the people, not NBC. People want live sports, period. Why does NBC not tape the superbowl a day in advance? What a bunch of losers.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Tammy

    I would rather watch them live. If it has to be a tape delay, at least show us ALL of the event, not select coverage over which the comentaors CONSTANTLY talk. The coverage has been appalling. I hope another network gets the bid next time. Apparently there's coverage online from the BBC and a Canadian network. I'll be searching that out this evening.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Curt

    I don't want to be up at 3:00 in the morning to watch the Olympics.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      Then move to London, ya idiot...

      July 30, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • nelly

      Then don't.....

      July 30, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
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