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. SilentK

    I think it's a riot that at the top of this story is breaking news about US swimmers who just won gold.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. cath3dr4l

    @bfpiercelk

    Try learning about a topic before ignorantly commenting about it. Moron.
    You have to have a cable television subscription in order to watch it live on NBC over the internet. I use an antenna to watch TV and I don't pay for cable television (when it's free over the air) – just high speed internet. Yet, because I am only a High speed internet subscriber, that doesn't qualify me to watch it on NBC's website. That is lame.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Travis

    The CNN app has been the worst spoiler. It told me who lit the torch and what happend to Phelps before it even aired in the US. I had to turn off notifications and now I don't get any news notifications. You should think about what you put out on the app as well.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. D Hayden

    Thank you NBC, for broadcasting everything live from the Olympics and in HD. It is amazing to me that I can watch anything I want live or anytime I want on my internet TV (and PC, phone and ipad). And it looks amazing! You must have every helicopter in Britain booked. Thank you too for not putting your money instead into producing more live events for TV, a redundant, outmoded and impractical medium for live broadcasting. As a company that pioneered television, it is great that you are leading the field in internet broadcasting.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wilder Napalm

      So I take it your an employee of NBC? Not that its obvious or anything.....

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

    who cares

    July 30, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jeffrey

    I love how the sports we want to see are on cable and not on free-TV..."The NBA mens team just started playing....now lets get back to 5 hours of bicycle riding"

    July 30, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wilder Napalm

      Spot on bro. Why give away the events the people will pay to watch? Let them watch sculling lol.........

      July 30, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • basketcase

      Speak for yourself. Some of us enjoy watching sports other than the 3 or 4 that are continually shown in the US most of the time. I'd personally rather bash my head into a wall than watch MORE basketball (an NBA and NCAA season regularly broadcast every year aren't enough?). If you feel differently, that's fine, but don't just assume that everyone wants to watch the same things you do.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. T

    If they didn't put results on ticker tape on .espn then that might help also. But we all have access to watch online so get on with life. My concern is the commentators... They are terrible and ruin the Olympics..... STOP TALKING during the events, let us just watch them!

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

      Ditto. The constant chatter drives me nuts! I don't mind some value added comments but over all it's just opinions that none of us care about. Also, I find a lot of the comments negative. What about finding the positive and include those in remarks?

      July 30, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Todd E

    What is this "Olympics" that you speak of?

    July 30, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. RollingeyesinKC

    OMG the opening ceremony was so filled with the announcers comments that I turned the sound off and fast forwarded all of it. The announcers and commercials need to take a back seat and just let all of us watch sports LIVE.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Teed

    The opening ceremonies were a big disappointment knowing it was taped. NBC has gone ridiculous.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JT

    Thanks NBC for providing only swimming, gymnastics, and running as sports.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. LT Fang

    Watching tape-delayed Olympics is like getting your news in telegraph. Hell no!

    July 30, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Truthbetold

    As long as I don't know the result its as good as live to me. Just stay off twitter if you don't want spoilers.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. basketcase

    I find it quite amusing that CNN posts an article that discusses Olympic coverage spoilers, but yet their homepage consistently contains spoilers. How about just a big Olympic Coverage link with a generic picture of a medal, London, the rings, etc. I would really appreciate being able to look at CNN for general news without having to consciously avoid a large section of the screen due to spoilers that they insist on putting directly on the homepage.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. hartshwk

    So what's wrong with doing both. ESPN did it just fine with the British Open

    July 30, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
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