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. JackStraw

    CNN ~~~ PLEASE STOP e-mailing us the results of the Olympics!!!! We want to watch it tonight. Pretty PLEASE!!!

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

    CNN, your breaking news emails have been the biggest problem for me in trying to avoid spoilers! Even if I choose not to read the email, the first words show up in my inbox, and I can't avoid seeing them. I was mad after the Lochte-Phelps spoiler, unsubscribed from the emails altogether after one yesterday, and then just got another one. Guess unsubscribe requests take awhile. At least add a line that is not a spoiler so it's not unavoidably visible in my inbox.

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

    I don't even pay attention to the Olympics. Taped or live does not really bother me. In the end I'd rather not be sitting on my fanny watching people move around, but instead move around and enjoy the world around me.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. roscoe

    There's a Seinfeld episode where Jerry goes to extremes to not hear the results of a Mets game so he can watch it on the tape he recorded. I'm in the same camp. I don't want to hear the results before I watch the event. Takes the fun and anticipation out of it.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. dewyprincess

    I can live with NBC tape delaying the big events. What I can't live with is CNN, knowing full well that NBC is doing this, spoiling all the results as breaking news blasts. WTH, CNN?

    July 30, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Pppa

    This is that darned Zuckerberg's fault...

    July 30, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. KK

    Shannon Miller > Elfi Schlegel.....just saying

    July 30, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. havanaclipper

    As cool it is for you at CNN to rapidly post the headline of an event, I, for one, won't be looking at the CNN website for two weeks. A cursory glance at the headlines has already spoiled two events. I'd rather find out the results myself by seeing it live or the evening's replay.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kristen

    Funny, above the link to this article is a Breaking News alert which contains spoilers in the headline.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Marie

    I don't mind spoilers, and I'm happy to watch the events even though I know the outcome.... It's still exciting!

    July 30, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  11. MattG

    Oh the irony of this story being on top of CNN's homepage, under the breaking alert banner notifying me of the results of the 100m breaststroke finals. Geez...spoiler alert CNN!

    July 30, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  12. r

    I want to see the swimming LIVE, the gymnastics LIVE.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  13. jC in Western U.S.

    There's an easy solution to this "problem". Stay off social media and don't read the stories on the internet until you watch the event on TV. Then you can pretend it's happening live and be just as excited . As for me, I don't really make the Olympics the center of my life for two weeks, so I'll appreciate what I do see whenever I see it.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Gopherit

    Wish I were back in the U.K. – BBC live coverage and no adverts!!

    July 30, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Evs

    Oh, you mean like the BREAKING NEWS displayed at the top of your main page? Good job.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • CC

      Exactly. How annoying!

      July 30, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Longmont, CO

      EXACTLY !! I was looking forward to watching Missy Franklin swim. Same thing happened yesterday. Was watching the news and they announced all the winners of the events I was planning on watching. And I'm not a hard core Olympics watcher. Just a few I really wanted to see.....WITHOUT knowing the outcome in advance.

      July 30, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • stephanie

      i totally agree!!! this site is the worst offender yet has this story like they're not even a part of it. most other sites will say that the article contains spoilers and to stop reading if you don't want to know. this site has the results in the headline on the main page without the option of passing on the article.

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