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. Nik

    I wouldn't have a problem with NBC if live coverage was actually available to everyone online, but it's NOT! It's only available to people who have cable or dish. What about those of us who have chosen to give up cable in favor of Hulu Plus and Netflix? Or those of us who can't afford cable? We have no options at all about how to watch, and can't even see all events, not even full replays. All we get are little clips and recaps. Because of NBC it is not possible for me, and many others, to watch the Usain Bolt race next week without it likely being spoiled. This is UNACCEPTABLE! The Olympics are supposed to be an event for the whole world to see. Every other country provides a way for everyone to watch the Olympics except the US. NBC has no Olympic spirit.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. lroy

    I think it's time that the Olympics went to cable, maybe even pay per view for the respective sports (live or tape delayed). Maybe one or two sports devoted to a channel each.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. smoothieshake

    Right below this story on the CNN main page is a link to the "Live Olympics" blog from CNN, with 3 huge spoilers listed in snippets from events that will air tonight. It's not just social media and NBC that's spilling the beans, it's CNN too.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Watch TSN and CBC

    I'm not suprised. NBC is doing to the Olympics what they do to hockey: gloss over the details by choosing fluff over substance. Just like we who have digital cable or satellite can get Hockey Night in Canada, we should be able to pay for a Canadian Olympic broadcast so we can see what a professional broadcast looks like.

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

      I find this article highly ironic coming from CNN who blasts their breaking news alerts regardless of who wants to see them and when. And, not limited to just the Olympics, but all sporting events, award shows, etc.

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

    I do not understand why opening ceremony wasn't broadcasted live

    July 30, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Charles

    In this age of Smart phone Apps does NBC wants us to live in a cave and wait for it's recorded coverage of events?

    July 30, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Fozzie

    The Olympics are so stupid. The whole world gets all in a tissy about sporting events where outside of the olympics were these events to happen you couldn't give tickets away to most of this stuff. Yippee we won a gold in Gymnastics and Synchronized Swimming. I got one word for everyone. FOOTBALL!!!!

    July 30, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Tor865

    Only NBC is arrogant enough to think that they can dictate tape delay. The modern world is real time.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Vince

    What is worst than a tape delay is having NBC coverage end, the NBC Nightly News start and the first thing they report on is the results of the 400IM that will be shown later that night. So, I just turned the TV off for the rest of the night as I already knew the results of the event I was interested in. Thanks for ruining Saturday night Olympic viewing NBC. Bet your advertisers loved you!

    July 30, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. JayL

    US television always wants to make things fit into their TV has even modified the rules of major games in order to better "present" sports on TV. that's why soccer will never make it in the US, guess what, the world doesn't work that way...other countries show games as they shoud be, LIVE. So, NBC, do what you have to do and show us the games live.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. virtualmet

    Over in the UK and it is amazing that BBC sports have about 24 channels dedicated to the Olympics where you can watch pretty much any event of your liken without any commercials at all..

    July 30, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Wilder Napalm

    NBC's problem is they think its still 1950 and they think they still have the market cornered on information. Of course this goes as well for CBS and ABC.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Kurosamu

    Hmmm... Yeah... We don't have to worry about that here in Canada.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Gee I can see two reasons here

    Nice .... good close up... LOL!

    July 30, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Snoozie

    One day they will create an anti-spolier app that will work on all internet news sites and social media sites. You'll just type in the keywords you don't want to be exposed to (for instance, "Olympics", "Win", "Swimming" etc. and it will filter out any news or tweets about that subject.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
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