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.

[tweet https://twitter.com/markjaquith/status/229745488142925824%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/lukesinak/status/229918009983111168%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/dylanconn/status/229770080148393984%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/hugoschwyzer/status/229253069492334594%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/darrenrovell/status/229294853824069632%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/GingeFC/status/229390454314127360%5D

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.

[tweet https://twitter.com/NBCDelayed/status/229759064618450944%5D

[tweet https://twitter.com/NBCDelayed/status/229699610778685440%5D

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.

[tweet https://twitter.com/jfb/status/229583424762032128%5D

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.

[tweet https://twitter.com/xiaoma/status/229295651488403456%5D

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. Ken

    I might complain about live streaming problems and the commentators ruining the opening ceremony etc. That is, if I could see the Olympics at all. I don't have cable or satellite so I don't enjoy the privilege of seeing the Olympics. NBC paid a lot of money to control how, when and if we can watch the Olympics. I would have happily paid a fee to watch the Olympics if that option were available. Since NBC chose to not provide that option it seems that part of the huge sum they paid was for the ability to punish those of us that have rejected the high price of junk channel packages for the pay to view choice.

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

    Hey kgt, they're not spoilers genius, they're results, aka news.

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

    I guess I don't understand what the fuss is about. I work all day. I don't spend time at the office with personal trivialities like FB or Twitter (what a joke). I get paid to work, not spend hours chasing "tweets". So who cares if it takes 5 hours for NBC to air something? I'm not going to watch it before then, anyway. I can only assume that the complainers (A) have no regular jobs, or (b) have no morals and have no problem ripping off their employers. Either one gets no respect from me at all. So shut up.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • frmrma

      If you work all day and don't "rip off" your employer, why are you posting before 5?

      July 30, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      I understand that some people working at an office or in the field wouldn't be able to watch live events, but NBC could simply repeat them later on in the evening. This is what they usually do in other countries, so why can't NBC do this, it's not hard to figure out. Many of us work at home and have the ability to watch these events live, and airing events live on the weekend should be without question. Some people have night shift. Some people are stay at home mothers or dads who can watch this stuff while doing other things. Just because I don't work in a cubicle all day does not mean I am unemployed, lazy or stupid.

      July 30, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Collin

    My biggest problem with NBC's coverage is they TALK TO MUCH. cut out the damn stupid mindless comentary and show the olympics. we could see more rather than less with 5 hours of comentary. This should also not be taken lightly by the advertisers because if there was less crap comentary than i might actually watch the nighlty broadcast in real time rather than recording it so i can fast forward through all the crap. and whoever made MCDonald the official resturaunt of the Olympics should be FIRED, with that in mind they should have made Phillip Morrison the main sponsor for the track and field events 🙂

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

    I love those upates. The reality is if you want to avoid spoilers, you need to move to a cave and bury your head in the sand. It just isn't realistic in todays age. That said, eventhough we all know who won, people are still tuning in to the wrap-up show at 8pm on NBC.

    Bummer that the Mens Gymnastic Team finished 5th today.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Danedjo

      Maybe living in my parents basement apt and not getting NBC on the rabbit ears is ok after all.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Joe

    Even NBC spoils there own system. They say we are going to show you some pictures now of the opening, but we won't spoil anything.. and then show stills of Beckham holding the torch, the queen on a helicopter and fireworks. Then you get to watch hours later. And the local NBC starts telling you about gold medals of events you haven't seen yet. It's good coverage, but spoiled if you go on the internet or even watch nbc itself between events. I knew the Lochte / Phelps results 2 hours before I even watched it.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  7. QuietStormX

    I was complaining about this when I tried to find the Broadcast and Events schedules and what NBC Channel on Verizon FiOS HD TV? But could not find it. And the fact that the games are live 5 hours away in England at that. In this case NBC should be Broadcasting these games Live on my Flat Screen HD TV. Not online and (SD) Standard Defination onlive on a computer and stream that is normal with dropouts in that small picture. Point is that I prefer my Sports Live when avaliable. Shoot I even don't watch the tape delay of Formulia One racing around the world on four races in the summer. I get up at 7:30am for these races to watch the live track data on F1.com. In this day and digital age of ESPN how can you not want your sports like the Olympics live in England? All U.S. broadcasting and News are based on the East Coast where the Sun rises first in New York. I don't have the money for a Fat stream to watch these game online live. The pictures are not great. I want my Sports on my HDTV. The Games are broadcast in HD. Just look at the cameras used there, HD. Where you can see the sweat and rain drops falling with 1080p .

    July 30, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Joe

    This is "first world problems" at its finest. The Olympics only happens every four years. Muster the willpower to stop looking at your Twitter and Facebook feeds for a day (or heck, even half a day). If you can't handle not looking at your precious social media for a day, then I don't feel bad for you.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Caroline

    I'm shocked that there's a story about this, because CNN is the worst about it. CNN is my homepage, so I accidentally saw that Phelps placed 4th and that Weiber didn't qualify for gymnastics all-around several hours before it was on TV because CNN had it clearly stated in the headlines at the top of the page. Thanks a lot. I'm avoiding using CNN for the rest of the Olympics. >:(

    July 30, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. mtkr

    Even if you have a cable tv subscription, you can't always watch online. My father's cable company is a small local one and so isn't on the list of providers. So no luck for on line viewing.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Caroline

    also, NBC's coverage is terrible.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Paul

    I don't understand this debate at all. In many European countries they do show events live all day but then have a "NBC like" show in the evening with all highlights of the day. Why can't they do both? Shouldn't be that difficult. NBC just doesn't get it. I am waiting for the day that OS will be covered by another network.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ironwolf56

    Are we really surprised? The execs at the broadcast level are doddering old fogies who still don't understand this "interweb business"

    July 30, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Joe

    Having to watch taped Olympics is not the same as live, it's almost as if you dvr something, and then somebody spills the beans on what happened. It sucks, I am aware of apps to watch them on your portable devices, such as I have one. I could only get though because I have Time Warner Cable, and I had to use my online username and password to get it to work. Although not everybody has cable, and can get such apps. Besides that who's watching their portable devices at 3am in the morning, not many I'd say.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Lynn

    The fact that NBC is airing taped events does not bother me as much as the fact that they don't tell you during broadcasting what is taped and what is live. Why can't they have some type of icon on the viewing screen that indicates when a broadcasted event is not live? For professional tennis events where there is a significant time delay both recorded and live versions of the event are aired so viewers can decide which to watch. Why can't the same be done, if only for the more popular olympic events?

    July 30, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
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