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. crobertdimitri

    You left out a fundamental problem, CNN. I'd be mostly fine with the way that NBC has chosen to broadcast, *IF* their live streaming website functioned with any consistency whatsoever. It absolutely does not. Therefore, your poll question and its choices preclude my response.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. cora ann

    What is truly amazing about this article on spoilers is how right under the article CNN has a headline which spoils the results again. I don't care that the stuff is online, but can CNN at least not show a picture of the podium or have the winners name plastered in the headline? How about just saying Results for Mens 100 Backstroke and if you are interested, then click the article.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  3. TheAmazingMrGeneric

    THIS JUST IN...

    1896 Olympics awarded to Athens...

    July 30, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Renato F. Aquino

    As much as I wanted to watch some of the Olympics, I refuse to watch events that happened several hours before, for which everyone knows the results. NBC, you can forget about having me as a spectator! I'd rather search the Internet for live broadcasts.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ladyofargonne

    The coverage is split three hours between the east coast and the west coast of the US. I hear one thing on TV and see another online. It's chaos and so is the TV scheduling. It should be on live and all the time.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Han

    Why can't they just do both? They revealed the results before the broadcast anyway. Why not do a live stream while also saving it for the primetime?

    July 30, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. whatevva

    I tried to watch online and without cable subscription, i can't watch it online either – NBC site asks for my COX login and password. Youtube channel has been blocked. Why is NBC bidding on TV coverage and controlling the Internet? They are controlling all media. So much for uncensored Internet, the medium of all people.

    It's not the spoilers that are the problem – they would leak anyway. It's that NBC is stuck in the 1960s model. Watching the events live in the middle of the night with everyone else in the world is fun. What makes NBC think that Americans are some lazy peeps who do things at their leisure, not with the rest of the world? And what's so prime time about weekends?

    Even if I do choose to come home and watch the events after work, everyone who would like to watch live should be given that option. Someone invent a time machine that will send NBC back to the 70s, and make it not survive that era.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. MorganE

    I agree with the last tweet of this article. We got rid of cable years ago and because we don't have cable, just the basic 13 channel lineup, we can't access any of NBC's online streams. I would certainly have paid a one time Olympics related fee if it meant we could stream online. My daughter is in fencing classes and even though fencing has been happening every day, we've yet to see any of it since NBC only shows a few "top" events in their nightly coverage. Tonight we're reading books and watching a DVD.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  9. paul Simpson

    NBC sucks, their network sucks and so does the coverage they produce! And the NBC executive who cried to twitter about a Business Email NOT an personal email should focus on his J.O.B. at the failing network!!!! that is all.....

    July 30, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. whatevva

    Oh, and viewership numbers are because they don't have a choice, not because their model is right!

    July 30, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Otasawian

    I live in Canada – we get to watch the Olympics live in the morning and can watch a recap in the evening. Watching an event live is far more enjoyable. NBC is doing a disservice to it's viewers by being "afraid" to broadcast the events live. If you can afford to by the rights to broadcast the Olympics, certainly you can afford to broadcast the events live that people are most interested in. (swimming, gymnastics, athletics, basketball...) Come on NBC – grow some balls!!!

    July 30, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Noah

      THANK YOU! It's a disservice and an injustice!!! It's totally against the olympic movement's philosophy – bringing the world together, etc. Awful.

      July 30, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. g

    no i want it taped so its fake like everything else on tv

    July 30, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Eat Mor Chikin'

    Olympics drinking game: Drink every time Bob Costas says something pretentious. Note: play this game only if you don't mind dying.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. James

    NBC's lame atempt in broadcasting the Olympics is like making the audience use those old 8 track cassettes, while everyone already has an iPad with the results coming in real time. I think the IOC should serious consider awarding the next Olympics to another media company who actually WANTS to show the events live, THEN do a prime time replay of the biggest events with some extra interviews added in.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jane Doe

    The real issue is not the "spoilers". It would be ruined for me even if I didn't know who won. It is just that there is not that type of excitement when you are watching a taped event. Somehow, when you are watching it live, it doesn't seem so stupid to cheer in front of the TV even though the athletes are all the way across the Atlantic. But when you know that it all happened 10 hours prior – you just feel disappointed and cheated out of the whole experience.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
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