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. Lindsey

    I used to love watching the Olympics when I lived in England, but the tape delay over here just spoils it for me. Sport is something that should be watched live or it takes something away from the excitement, even if you don't know the results.

    Every time the Olympics comes around, there are always complaints. Every time I hope NBC finally listened but they never do.

    My only guess is that the advertisers prefer it this way and they are obviously more important than the viewers.

    They should show as much as they can live and then have a highlights show in the evening so everyone can catch up.

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

    (note that my description of NBC's coverage of the Olympics Opening Ceremonies comes from Twitter and online reviews by third parties, since I can't GET NBC's broadcasts for love or money.)

    July 30, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Russ

    I recorded the opening cermonies on my TIVO because got tired of the lousy coverage and the fact the cermonies were very disappointing. When I went to watch it back my inital impressions were correct. COMMERCIALS EVERY 6 MINUTES!!!! Will never watch NBC coverage again!!

    July 30, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Drumcode

    Reading the comments here I come to one conclusion. Stupid Americans are stupid.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. fay ruujin

    give me a break. my cat has way more ability than these athletes will ever have. man is by nature very lame. my cat sleeps around for 18 hours per day, has never trained for anything, eats a bowl of dried I-don't-know-what and can jump at least 8 times his height with ease. try doing gold metal winning high jumper!

    July 30, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Randy Price

    There is also another big problem with the coverage – NBC only covers about five different sports. Back in the day, when the games were actually covered live, they used to go back and forth between a whole host of different sports. I guees it's all part of targeted marketing, foucs groups, Nielsen ratings, prime time audience, blah blah blah.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  7. mrrjcouto

    Come to Canada you can watch four different events live on four separate channels.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ron

    NBC Sucks

    July 30, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  9. MtnGoatJoe

    All events should be available live on TV and via the web. NBC can still have its nightly roundup (which I enjoy), but all events should be available live.

    Also, why have a tape delay when the events are in the same time zone? Why couldn't I watch the Vancouver, BC opening ceremony live (or any of the events for that matter)? Tape delaying events in the same time zone is just stupid.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jon

    When I found out everything I was watching was taped I quit watching. Would be like recording a football game and watching it later. Whats the point?

    July 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  11. cathy

    NBC should cover it live during the day and repeat in prime time. There is no excuse for not airing live on the weekends. I was dismayed that the Phelps race on Saturday was tape delayed and I happened upon the outcome by mistake

    July 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Adam

    No fun watching the olympics when I know the winners. 😦 Sucks cause I visit news sites on and off all day.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. kgt

    As a working American – one of the few remaining who actually has a private sector job – I prefer the taped coverage that I can watch in the evenings when I get home.

    With regards to the spoilers, the biggest offender by far is the CNN iPhone app. I've uninstalled it due to its persistent bombardment of unwanted spam. The last straw was the alert for the Men's 4×100 relay.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim Hanlon

      Live and tape delayed are not mutually exlusive. And providing both would expand the total size of the audience. But legacy broadcast tv sells eyeballs within a set time period. The metrics by which tv executives get their bonuses are based on the eyeballs within a time period. They will not do anything that may increase the total number of eyeballs if it means two fewer eyeballs during the measured time priord. TV viewwers don't count–only tv excutives bonuses matter!

      July 30, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Matt

    NBC paid over a billion dollars – they didnt spend that money to cater to you John Q Public and how you think its nifty to get your entertainment.

    Why do people think because twitter and facebook are a refresh away from being live that somehow NBC owes them that same speed? They dont. Entertainment is optional, not a birthright.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ross

    NBC is showing USA vs. Poland men's volleyball live in London right now. They were also showing waterpolo live earlier on. I was very happy (and surprised!) to see this, so maybe they are getting the memo? I hope they continue this, because this is the first LIVE coverage I've seen on NBC so far.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
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