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. russ

    NBC is guilty of showing all the results ahead of prime time coverage as well. nbcnews.com will give you up to the minute results, and while it is nice to see the events duting the evening, mus they make me wait until 10:58 to show me the 2 minute race? Spread them out during the evening, and keep badmitton on bravo.
    GO USA!

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

    Who cares either way the Olympics are waaaaaaaay boring.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Drumcode

    If many complaints get to the US Olympic Committee regarding NBC bogus broadcasting tactics, we might be successful in taking away their broadcasting rights.

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

    I agree i do not like all the spoilers, but they do this because of the time diffrence if not we would be up all night like it was in the bejing olympics.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Drumcode

    @peacsktr – they're not spoilers, they're results, aka news

    July 30, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Carolyn Sorenson

    I want live results as they happen and manage on various sources. Also enjoy the Tape Delay for later in the day. Lets have both. My biggest disapointment is not being able to see any Equestian events on NBC Sports or Tape Delay on NBC.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. jyves95

    Yeah.. Everyone should stop winning. It's not a big deal.. We should also tape the super bowl and broadcast it the day after. What's the big deal?
    And if the US has to go to war, we can also tape it and reveal it a week after. Why do we need to watch things during daylight? The Marines landed in Somalia at night.. why? when they could have landed during daylight? Because it could not be taped and the US army had to match our TV ratings.

    Is that an American thing to think that others have to match our schedule and time must be our slave?

    July 30, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. dnk512

    Coverage must be Live. Any time of the day. Let the people make time to watch it.
    This is not a soap opera (though it seems that is what they wish to make out of it).
    Anything else is lazy commercialism for a lazy nation.
    Yes, I live in the US and I am disgusted by the Networks.
    I turned my TV off.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Roger

    I guess I'm in the minority who doesn't care if I know the results ahead of time. If they say the event was exciting and a nail-biter, it'll be a nail-biter when I watch it after knowing the results also.

    I have a hard time faulting the company that paid MILLIONS of dollars for broadcast rights the desire to make that money back.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Beadlesaz

      Roger – I agree. And, just how many of the complainers would be willing to watch an event in the wee hours? Or, would call in sick to watch a live event. Let's just all stop whining.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Katie

    For YEARS now the Olympics coverage on regular network tv has been terrible. I do NOT want to watch some wanna be host recap the opening games or have an in-depth interview with some athlete's mother. I want to see the games. And believe it or not, I would rather watch reruns on another channel than watch any more beach volleyball. Tape delay is stupid – SHOW IT LIVE!! And if you just can't show it live, stop showing it at eleven pm. Some of us have jobs and don't want to stay up all night waiting to see what we've heard all about in detail on the radio.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carlos

      EXACTLY... well said... this is just ridiculous...

      July 30, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. R. King

    Live - this is what DVRs are for.

    Plus, if NBC is even paying attention (I seriously doubt it,) get your schedule right, I tried to watch Archery and was rewarded with an hour's worth of Table Tennis.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Brahm

    Best front page image. Ever.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. VTEnvE

    Lets not even mention the fact that NBC can't even tell us which lanes the swimmers are in. I spend more time counting lanes than I care to admit! Then someone like France wins and I'm like oh Lane 4 just won, what country is that? Please provide the info, its not like you haven't had the footage for 5+ hours!

    July 30, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • lroy

      First it depends on the sport. If it's one I like (gymnastics, swimming, diving, track & field for example) I'd rather see it live. For the more boring (to me) like volleyball then I'd rather have tape delay. The reality is that for those of us on the East Coast, London is still 5.5 hours ahead of us anyway. And to get up at 4 am to watch a sport "live" is simply not worth it. Third, if you don't want to know the results before the broadcast, DON"T READ THE INTERNET (like DUH!!!).

      July 30, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Snoozie

      That's weird. I watched that event, and they did say a few times what lane they were in. And each time the swimmers turned, they showed "United States" in huge letters with the icon of an American flag over the lane they were in. Were you perhaps doing something else that distracted you?

      July 30, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  14. bfpiercelk

    "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."

    "Yes, NBC is airing all the events live online if you have a cable provider."

    You mean that whole internet thing that people are crying about getting spoilers from? You can use THAT to see the events...LIVE.

    I think this whole thing is confirmation that the twitter/facebook population is composed of crybaby idiots...

    July 30, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Beadlesaz

      bfpiercelk – you nailed it. Why aren't they just watching on their computers if it's that big a deal? Oh, yeah – because they'd rather rant and rave and act like it is some criminal conspiracy to ruin their lives. We are surrounded by crybabies.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • carlyn

      It is online if you have a cable subscription. Not only that, but for most the cable companies you have to have digital cable subscription. I choose not to have cable.

      I got a VPN and am watching CTV Canadian coverage. It's legal and the Canadian coverage has a lot more live free streaming events shown [today, I saw Michael Phelps win LIVE, not tonight recapped on NBC] They pointed out on NPR this morning that NBC should have offered subscriptions directly - sure, they should make money, but they have watered down the coverage so much, it is almost offensive. The Canadian coverage shows the athletes much more, and is a bit drier/not so USA-centric, but that is fine with me as it focuses more on showing the actual sports, not the anchors mugs every 5 minutes.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • lroy

      Simple geographics...the closer the games, the more live. As you remember the LA games was live. Why? Because we were only three hours max. Rio should be a little bit better. And I don't want ANY complaints in 2014 for the winter games!!!!!

      July 30, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. PRH

    NBC...you blew it. Whomever you allowed to run the demographics on this programming debcale totally missed what those of us who wish to enjoy the Olympics expect form our network provider. Yes, I can DVR if I choose...I choose not. Run it live, as it's happening, and for those who cannot watch because of their individual scheduling conflict, they have plenty of options to catch the event when it is more conducive to their schedule. You, NBC, should not make that call, we should. I'll repeat...you blew it...now man up and fix it from here on out.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
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