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. Monica

    I like to know what's happening as the day unfolds and I check Twitter a couple times a day for that purpose. Reason being that I have limited time in the evening and if I already know what's going to happen I can watch what I'm interested in and fast forward through the rest. So a combination of live and later is best for me.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. burnabyjoefan

    I love how right above this article there is a BREAKING NEWS headline that reads, 'Matt Grevers and teen Missy Franklin win Olympic gold medals for the U.S. in the men's and women's 100-meter backstroke.'

    Great Job CNN on applying yourself to the article.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Gohek

    Wish they would shut up.... ruins the events

    July 30, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. GoDucks73

    NBE execs and all the employees for that matter should be lined up and disembowled, along with their families so as to end their bloodlines. The entire planet, except for the good ole' USA are watching the Olympics, people who don't have TVs can see them live......the only good NBC employees are dead ones.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. IrishInNJ

    There is no great spoiler than that of CNN breaking news email updates. As evidenced 10 minutes ago. Medal winners does not equate to "breaking news".

    July 30, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Elaina

    This whole delayed broadcasting thing has ruined the entire thing for me. I enjoy watching Olympics but the fact that everything is spoiled before it airs has taken away the fun out of watching the events.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Chuck M

    This Olympics has already done more than any other event to show that newscasts and newspapers really are becoming obsolete. Do people mind being interrupted with instant, live coverage? It doesn't appear so. Just wait until people get really good at tweeting live video reports. Still, having an objective source round up the day's events and present them at a prescribed hour is useful, just not as useful as it was in the old days (2011 and earlier).

    July 30, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  8. willK

    I am blessed enough to go into work each weekday so if the London Olympics were only broadcst live then I along with a lot of the work force in the US we would not be able to see any Olympics during the week. I am very happy that NBC is broadcasting on tape delay so I can watch in the evenings. I have so far managed to not see too many results before I sit down and watch in the evenings. By now sites like this one know that people will watch the Olympics in the evening and do not want the spoilers so listing results on the home page is in my opinion is showing a lack of understanding your readers. A link to see the results would be a much better option. I like watching the Olypics enough that I will look for a news site that will not spoil it for me. Goodbye to this site for now.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • ArizonaYankee

      That's what a recording capability is all about. I want to see it live, or not at all....

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

    Sad to say, but like most mainstream media NBC really S U X . Nothing like watching the games and already knowing who won......where is the viewer thrill ?

    July 30, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. MDX

    Moronic decision by NBC...

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

    I've lost interest in most events because I already know who wins so I'm not really watching the Olympics even though I had planned on doing so.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • DC

      Agreed with most people. I'm online all day due to my work, and every single news site (this includes you, too, CNN!) spoils just about everything for me. It's very difficult to avoid. Either the US news media needs to agree to a 5-6 hr embargo on Olympic news, or NBC needs to step up and do it live. Why do we have to have this problem every two years??

      July 30, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chet

      I still want to see what went wrong with the men's gymnastic team and why they finished 5th.

      PS congrats to Missy Franklin and Matt Grevers for winning gold.

      July 30, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Paul "Barry" Karn

    I am 34 & live in my parent's basement.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck M

      We're not attractive when we brag.

      July 30, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • frontgate

      you rock dude

      July 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Merritt Harbert

    NBC encourages online viewing of every event "live", but every 2 minutes an advertisement rudely interrupts the "live feed," not to mention the video regularly goes blurry. Can't even rely on NBC to accommodate online viewing.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Melissa

    NBC's 4-5 channel live coverage during the day is great except for the fact they aren't showing the "main draws" until the delayed primetime. Why not show the "main draw" games, matches, races, etc. live and then AGAIN in their primetime packaged deal? Remember, there is a 5 hour time difference between the East Coast and London. Nothing is happening live in the middle of the night in London when it is 8pm East Coast time in the United States.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. RBinNY

    My recollection is that even when the games were held on east coast time (Atlanta 96) they were not streamed live on US TV, but you could see them live if you had Canadian (CBC) TV on cable or over the air. And that was way before social media spoilers. It's better now in that you can watch live if you want/need to via your PC.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
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