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. Rob

    How about CNN posting spoilers? I found about the Phelps race before I saw it. Headline on the homepage. Thanks a lot. That aside, I'm not home during primetime so this sucks. Why don't they re-run the primetime coverage again starting at midnight when it ends?

    July 30, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ForeverLive

    Sports are supposed to be watched live. USA is a developing country in this regard....

    July 30, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Cody

    Warnercc, good point. I think that despite all the advertising dollars etc, NBC is still losing a bunch of money by broadcasting the Olympics

    July 30, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Grammer

    From the first 3 paragraphs: The writer needs to learn the correct usage of "former" and "latter."

    July 30, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • sovacool

      Exactly! I had to reread those sentences 3 times until I realized they messed that up. And there are two issues; spoilers in mainstream news and whether it should be prime time or not. CNN and everyone else could just have a "spoiler alert" link to Olympic results and it would be fine. I like the primetime coverage, but i can't disconnect from the world for two weeks just because I want a little excitement in swimming!

      July 30, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Grammar*

      Sorry, I had to.

      July 30, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. alex

    I knew it, just like when that old fart was in charge...the last 3 winter olympics, if you were into Curling or Figure Skating you got all the live coverage in the world, if you liked anything but..you could wait till Midnight for that tape delay. The summer games A JOKE TOO. If I hadn't taken a nap I would not have seen any of the gymnastics but as it turns out, that delay didn't start till 9pm so I missed most of it anyway. Its time for another network to do the Olympics and please retire Bob Costas, makeup isn't making him shut up. Why can't there be continuous coverage on however many stations for how ever many events are going on.? and if you want tape delay for prime time then you deal with it.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alonzo

      Curling Ruuuuuules.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • pj77

      Best Bob Costas dis of the day. Keep 'em coming. I swear he has a severe case of little man syndrome.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. sharky

    NBC's coverage is quite bad. People cannot watch the other covering channels, under the NBC umbrella, unless they have digital cable or something.

    I am getting fed up with the News sites, CNN included, with providing all the results before the broadcast and not providing any spoilers. People cannot turn off the net, turn off the tv and sit and wait, as there is news outside of the Olympics and it is not fair to people want to see the rest of the news of the world or nationally, but also wanting to not be given the results prior to seeing them.

    The news sites need to put a link up that is ONLY a link, set aside, that says "Olympic Results" that provides absolutely no information, UNLESS you click on that link, so that people can read the news sites, see the news about the rest of the world, and can either check results or not. It is a simple and easy measure. I do not like getting results hours before I get to see them and it is entirely nonsensical to say "Don't click on these sites" "Don't use the internet." Those are ridiculous comments.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Carlos

    What if a moment like the 1980 Miracle on Ice happened today. Would that moment be ruined for American viewers if it was tape delayed in 2012? Twitter would explode long before the puck was dropped on the primetime coverage. NBC needs to realize that.

    I don't get why the Sunday afternoon sports were tape delayed. It's Sunday afternoon. What else are we doing?

    July 30, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • haskeli

      Most Americans are doing "stuff" on Sunday afternoons and more apt to watch primetime coverage. Of course it was gymanstics so I watched the baseball game on ESPN, but I do understand NBC's decision.
      On a side note, I guess East coasters (myself included) finally know what the West coasters complain about regarding spoilers for tv shows that air on delay.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      People, you can take some time off of Twitter/news sites, or mute the tv while they're giving the results and watch it later if you really want to. It's not that hard to figure out.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. lifes2short2dancewiththefatchicks

    THIS JUST IN...
    MAN LANDS ON THE MOON

    SOURCE: NBC SPORTS

    July 30, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  9. TallyChick

    If NBC were to only air the events live in UK time, then Americans would be complaining that they have to get up at 5am to watch some random event the is happening live in London with a 5-8 hour time difference. Be glad that NBC is showing time-delayed events during American prime time. If you don't want spoliers, then get off social media or take yourself to London and watch the games. NBC can't control the time difference between the US and the UK.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • PrivateRyan

      Screw NBC and their weak coverage, they can broadcast events live and broadcast a special coverage at prime time. They can use their different channels to to organize that. I don't have to go online to watch it. The opening ceremony delayed coverage was also stupid and cutting the terror victims tribute was unethical.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • GoDucks73

      @tallychick, are you really that stupid? You have no clue as to what you are saying. Keep your money hole closed and put your head back in his lap.

      July 30, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  10. NukeTim

    NBC's coverage stinks to High Heaven.

    I'm not even gonna watch. After-the-fact is a waste of my time.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Aheart

    CNN, you are one of the worst offenders of this! You don\'t need to put the results in headlines on the homepage. I\'ve come to check news (not Olympics) in the last few days and have had major events and races spoiled because of your blatant reporting of results before the coverage has aired in the US. #CNN&NBCFail

    July 30, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joe

    It's the Olympics.. who cares? i don't know a single person who watches that crap or is interested one bit in it. Unknown amateurs in fringe sports.. borrriiinnnngggg

    July 30, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Forrest

      Just because you are ignorant of the significance of the Olympics, doesn't mean you're in the majority. Your social circle must be pathetically small and small-minded.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rich978745

      You know no one interested so that's the end of the debate. You're probably very boring

      July 30, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Forrest

    Wow, this is a complaint? Sports fans have been dealing with this for years. Avoid social media for the duration if you care that much. They make it sound like they're required to read every tweet, chirp, and burp that happens.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Alonzo

    I hope curling will be on tonight ! Sweeeep sweeeeep sweeeeeep ! YES !

    July 30, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. New Gawker

    who has time to watch it live. I'm speaking for the productive working members of society.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
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