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. Joe

    I have cable and guess what I live in the good old us of a, and I have 4 channels for Olympics if not more!

    July 30, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Erin

    Does it bug me that I live on the West Coast and almost every event is tape-delayed (even if it occurs on the West coast) – Yes. Do I understand NBC's right to make tons of money because they spent tons of money – Yes. Do I risk seeing the spoilers when I check any news via my mobile device or computer – Yes. My beef is with the creation of drama and the relentless back stories of all of the athletes – Ryan Seacrest – really??? I want to see the Olympics, the sports, the events of the day – I want a "mashup" of ALL of the events – not the reality TV show that NBC has created or just the two sports that NBC determines they want to show me.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Chet

    Congratulations to Missy Frankly and Greevers for winning gold.

    Bummer that the Mens' gymnastic team failed to medal.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Annie

    I'd watch the Olympics live if i could, but some of us actually have jobs – big shock, I know. I can't watch live coverage online during the day; all I can do is set my dvr for whatever's being shown and go home and watch it. But the spoilers really, really ruin that. I don't want to know who won before I watch it. I can't thing of a way to stop it, though. People today feel like they have to post EVERYTHING on some sort of Twitter, Facebook, whatever. Even the online news pages have huge headlines saying this person one or that person was disqualified. I miss the old days when people didn't have the option of ruining the Olympics.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Drumcode

    American stupidity at its best.

    3 Steps to successfully watch Olympics while in the US.

    1. DVR the event.
    2. Stay off the internet while at work during the business hours, which is what most of you fat hamburger eating people should be doing.
    3. Get back home and watch the events.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Annie

    Really, why do they have to post who won – let's say Michael Phelps won a race; if I was watching it, I already know. If I wan't watching, either I don't care or I was planning on watching later.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Maria

    I am so annoyed that live coverage was hijacked by NBC and that I know all the results long before the actual
    T V coverage.
    Disgraceful that Americans weren't allowed to see live coverage regardless of the time difference..we all watch Wimbledon and French Open tennis....not a problem...
    Money and deals trumped pride in and support of our young young athletes..

    July 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  8. CG

    First two articles highlighted on cnn.com:
    1. "Critics say NBC's tape-delayed Olympics coverage might be OK if spoilers weren't trickling through every nook of the Internet before the events finally air. "
    2. "Live Olympics blog The United States wins gold in both the men's and women's 100-meter backstroke"

    You mean the 100-meter backstroke races that I can't see on NBC for another 7 hours?!?! Way to spoil it, CNN.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony in NC

      Still would be good to pick and choose what we want to see. I've seen more table tennis in the past two days then in my entire 50+ years alive. Not to knock table tennis but I would personally like to see a lot of events that never show up on NBC programming and am willing to pay for it just like I do other sports events.

      July 30, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. phneutral

    It's not that difficult. What ever makes NBC the most $ is the way it will be done. Ratings and commercial sponsor rates. What's the surprise? This isn't good or bad ,it's a just business.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Brian

    I would pay money for Bob Costas to stop talking!

    July 30, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Hannah

    If ESPN can air WIMBLEDON live from London then NBC has no reason to not show the London Olympics live. 5 hours isn't even a huge difference when you compare it to the time difference we had for Beijing or Sydney Olympics so there is no excuse to not air these Olympics live, especially for those of us on the east coast. I have to be at work for 9:30 every morning. I would be more than willing to wake up at 7 to catch a few live events. That's what I did for Wimbledon, I should be able to do this for the Olympics!!!

    July 30, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Drumcode

    When I see Bob Costas I want to poke my eyes out.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Nik

    I stopped reading when CNN posted people's tweets.

    Do your own work and stop reporting what people on the streets say in 140 characters or less.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Norm

    Doesn't matter to me.
    As long as it doesn't interfere with any of the shows I watch.
    I don't think we should be "forced" to watch the stupid Olympics.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony in NC

      If not for the "stupid Olympics" there would be no sports at all, only fluff and stuff on TV.

      July 30, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tony in NC

    Can't wait for the day when I can pick and choose what events I want to see. We have the technology, just need the power to take it away from NBC and their sponsors.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
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