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. 19faye62

    If the events were live, how would NBC be able to show commercials? NBC is not non-profit; they still have to pay bills by showing commercials.

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

      19faye62, they sneak in commercials during live events too. They also have the option of showing the events live when they happen and then show them at prime time as well, so they would still make a profit. Just not as much of a profit. They're too greedy and that's their problem.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jess

    Honestly, most of the spoilers are coming from CNN! I'm no longer checking the CNN twitter feed and after this comment will no longer be reading CNN.com until after the olympics are over. Case in point: right at the top of this article is a spoiler about Missy Franklin! Why can't you just use spoiler alerts? That way only the people who want read it will find out the results. I'm not willing to stay up until 4am in the morning just to see my favorite event happen live when its just going to be shown in primetime. Quit with the spoilers, CNN!

    July 30, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Robert Shaperio

    Somebody needs to tell the old white haired guys that run NBC that this is 2012 not 1960. Technology and the viewing audience has changed.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. alexpdx

    The opening ceremony set the stage – delayed, crammed full of advertising and stupid commentary.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Beadlesaz

      Feel free to not watch it.

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

      alexpdx, yes that's what I thought! I was really shocked at their commentary on some of the countries during the parade of nations. At one point they were trying to figure out why Luxembourg came in with the "G" countries. That's because it's official name is Grand Dutchy of Luxembourg, but apparently they couldn't even have someone google that for them. Ridiculous.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ArchieDeBunker

    Aah, it's them dang "1%" ers again – they're a-spoilin' everthing! Or is it the Occupy Wallnut Street dummies – takin' time out from their busy schedule of tryin' to get a better education so they'll be worth somethin' to somebody, and can't resist callin all their poor friends in London to find out wha' happen' and then tweetin' all th' results? Dang 'em all, innyway!

    July 30, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Joe Cesare

    The $64,000 question is "will NBC tape delay the Olympic coverage of Romney's dancing horse?"

    July 30, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Soo confused.

    Just shows that NBC needs to hire younger, smarter, tech savvy executives. I think they really missed the boat on this one.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  8. cath3dr4l

    This is dumb.

    What if something happens like it did in 1996 with the Magnificent 7 and Kerri Strug's amazing 2nd vault? I watched that LIVE as a kid and it is one of my all time most memorable moments in Olympic history. Now I find out about it on the web immediately but because I'm not a digital cable subscriber (yes, I pull free television off air with an antenna, OMG) but can't watch the event for hours because of NBC's policy on tape delaying? Come on!!

    Only thing I can hope for is that nothing memorable happens this time I guess....

    July 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jackie

    Yawn.....

    July 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. frontgate

    instant news coverage is a problem?
    wow! incredible

    July 30, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  11. LindaLou

    I am a 52-year-old woman and even I don't get my news on TV anymore, haven't for years. The age of instant information goes far beyond the young-people-use-twitter notion, and is available to everyone now. Television's greatest advantage is to show live events directly to viewers' large home TV's, and if networks fail to do that, they will become irrelevant. Also, their delayed and prepackaged coverage has so much fluff and talking heads and maudlin back-stories that it is simply easier to read the results and cherry-pick which highlights to watch and not stay up until midnight at the mercy of their version of Olympic "excitement"

    July 30, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. WALU

    Allow the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Channel) to broadcast into the USA like they used to until NBC made a deal with them not to air the Olympics in the same frequency. CBC analysts were always there, no cut away for commercials during opening ceremonies, they always had some one on air while events were ongoing, the schedule was clear and concise, the taped events that were clearly identified as to when they'd happened and why it wasn't live (like something unexpected happened or an important event was on too early or late and people may not have seen it). NBC has confused everyone with Live coverage (is that east coast time, London time?) and their prime time coverage, which is just really a wrap up show, is irrelevant as most of the world knows the outcome. WE used to watch CBC and then watch the primetime US channel also. If only to catch up on what the US teams did because with the CBC a lot of other nations with interesting stories and interesting events took up some of the day. It seems like NBC hasn't noticed the world turned out for these events, not just the USA.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • vtslayer

      I grew up in northern Vermont and always used to watch the CBC Olympic coverage. The coverage was more thorough, I got to see athletes from other countries, and they didn't talk over every event. You actually could watch *and* hear the events happen; yet they somehow managed to inform us about any significant but obscure call or scoring decision. This NBC coverage is infuriating.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Woody

    I live in Vermont and watch the Canadian Broadcast on CTV instead of NBC's awful broadcast.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Drumcode

    Thank you CNN for writing about this failure to broadcast Olympics. I've never ever seen such a negative response to NBC's failure as I've seen it over the weekend on Facebook and Twitter.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  15. phneutral

    Nice cover shot. Yay puppies.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
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