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. Pebbles Flintstone

    The time difference is not that big. In an age when most work break areas have a TV, there is no reason why it can't be streamed live. Folks can watch during their lunch break and/or catch the rest of it in a prime time recap. Based on the fact that most of us work and can't watch TV all day long – most companies put out TVs for big events anyway. It can be worked around. Not rocket science for NBC.

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

    Stupid NBC total control coverage means I have little Olympics. My cable provider refused to pay the giant Olympic rates to get the TV package that included the other NBC channels so they are showing other programing during those sports. Plus NBC wont allow my online coverage live or recorded due to not having a cable company on board. This wasn't an issue the last Olympics as I could stream everything Online without a problem and it had nothing to do with my cable provider. Plus they don't offer a pay to watch online option (which would probably be super expensive anyway). So other than the regular NBC nightly coverage I get no Olympics.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. wildone

    My favorite coverage is the lack of coverage shown by the US women's volley ball team. (Although, I must say it's difficult to keep your eye on the ball and your mind on the game.)

    July 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. runnerbean

    Pretty sure NBCs biggest failure is cutting the memorial to the 7/7 bombing victims out of their coverage of the opening ceremony... pretty much tells the world that the US isn't interested in remembering other counties victims of terroism (I'm sure this isn't true but that is the impression NBC have given the world).

    July 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • bwtchn

      i agree, do you know if there is going to be a dvd of the opening ceramonies released?? I am sure it was a wonderful show and the crop job NBC did to it to make time for commercials is criminal!

      July 30, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • christophermcne

      I can't say I'm suprised though...

      July 30, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. urouttolunch

    How did you choose the picture on the CNN home page that leads us here, and WHY? Wake up, CNN, you're as clueless as NBC!

    July 30, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Carl

    If only there weren't so many "leaks"! Could the entire planet outside of the US Pacific time zone please refrain from taking about the Olympics as it happens? It may seem like a crazy request, but you would really be helping out our 2012 profit margin.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Steve

    Hahahahaha....CNN has an article about spoilers, when DIRECTLY BELOW it, they have spoilers ON THE FRONT PAGE!!! Hahahahaha!

    July 30, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ally D

    CNN you are just as bad. Can't you put 'Click here for the result of the...." instead of putting the spoiler right on the homepage????

    July 30, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Matt

    NBC morning news has reruns, their own chatter, and even mock races, with no information on most recent medal winning athletes. How demeaning to the athletes and Olympic supporters. 🙁

    July 30, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Live Fail

    I get that some people work all day and can't see them live. however.. WHY?!?!!?!? does everyone else need to wait to see them at 8pm too??? just show them live already! anyone who wants tape delay can go on the website later and watch them or they can watch them 2 years from now which is what tape delay is for in the first place

    July 30, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  11. David

    There are also those of us that do not have a cable provider that is recognized by NBC online coverage (nor are there any other options in our area). No Olympics for us.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  12. anon

    Just VPN and watch foreign coverage for free. Also, there's TONS of pirated HD streams out there. The old model of television is dying faster and faster and those who want / expect to view things in the not so distant future the same way they always have will be left high and dry as these media / content providers lose tons of cash and go belly up. They can either learn what the record industry did 10 years ago or get destroyed like whip makers did to the automobile. As Agent Smith said, "you hear that? It's the sound of inevitability."

    July 30, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. donna

    It's wrong of CNN to cover NBC material before NBC has a chance to air it. They paid for the license.

    If CNN wanted to cover the Olympics, they should have paid for it themselves. This "pseudo-coverage" is sickening. CNN just give it up. Asking us how we want to see the olympics is not your concern. It's NBC's.


    July 30, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ralphlev

    Maybe more Americans should move to Canada to enjoy our healthcare system AND live Olympic coverage!

    July 30, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jim

    Seriously. Isn't there NEWS out there somewhere?

    July 30, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
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