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. Brett from Texas

    NBC has a large number of channels they should at least air events live on like USA, MSNBC, CNBC, NBCSP, etc and then air it delayed in Primetime on NBC for those who have been working.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mike

    I used to leave in the border and I was able to watch the Mexican broadcast and it was soo much better than NBC. They always have live events and they really have the best coverage! Unfortunately I moved and now I don't have cable do I have to wait until prime time to actually see the events. I don't mind the spoiler but it would be nice if we were able to see the action live! Why if other countries do it for free to all their audience in America we get restricted ?

    July 30, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • RM

      Same thing on the northern border. I grew up in Detroit, and would watch the Olympics on CBC. Plenty of live events, and in English too! All NBC does is fill time with sob stories and announcer blather. Same with CBS when they had them.

      July 30, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Newt

    Sure I can watch it online if my rural cable provider is one NBC likes, or if my connection is fast enough. Perhaps NBC needs to recognize that not everyone lives in a city. I hope they show the closing ceremony live, and preferably without inane chatter. Or let us watch it on BBC.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. vann

    Olympics? You mean they have already started?

    July 30, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Amber

    NBC keeps defending themselves against those who are upset about the delayed coverage by saying people can stream the events live online. HOWEVER, they limit the live streams to those who have specific cable/dish subscriptions. I have no need for cable, and I'm not going to sign up for it just so I can watch live Olympics coverage that I should be able to watch on NBC live. Sports are meant to be shown live. Even if I didn't mind watching the events on prime time, it's impossible not to be spoiled on the results. Between tweets, news coverage, and NBC's own Olympics app, I have known the results for every single prime time event so far, without any effort of my own.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Yoda the Wise

    Perhaps the Olympic committy should have thought about that when they selected the venue.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  7. RadZap

    I seriously DGAF about the Olympics these days.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. NK

    HMM I wonder why CNN used that picture for the cover story?

    July 30, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Russ

    Doesnt matter, NBC will time delay, even if the olympics come back to America and theres no reason to delay it, they'll still time delay it.

    When the Winter Olympics were in Vancouver BC, like alot of people who live on the West Coast (Seattle, Portland, SF, LA, etc), we were hit with a time delay so that East Coast got the feed first. So most would switch over to Canadian CBUT just to watch it live. Of course, you cant do it now because Comcast will black out that channel.

    I would love nothing better than to see NBC/Comcast lose the exclusive rights, have Google buy the license and let PBS handle the over the air broadcast, but let them handle all the online streaming. Lets create an app for AppleTV, WDTV and GoogleTV, that lets you stream everything straight to your HDTV or via YouTube Channel (which there are apps already available on most phones).

    July 30, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Zeynep Palpas

    Streaming online would be great, if you could get through the log-in process! Our cable provider is currently being sold to another provider so we apparently don't have a proper account at the moment, which means we can't log in and watch the streams. Why can't they make the streaming easily available online for everyone to watch? Such bureaucratic nonsense in this day and age.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. AmerGrill

    I'd rather have it live. The controversies are late too. Ye Shiwen story just broke in the US and the race was days ago. Even anti American Drudge who is always on top of news is only now just twisting the story to make America look bad when the committee, coaches and other swimmers have been questioning this race for days. So far for Americans the whole coverage has been a disaster. We aren't int he loop for anything and there are mix stories coming in from a variety of sources.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Bleedingheart

    Who cares, I'd rather watch baseball any day.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Tone

    CNN is one of the biggest spoilers! When I go to their home page, it already posted that the mens relay team got 2nd place and there was a huge picture, front and center, and that was well before the primetime showing.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Tone

    ESPN needs to buy the coverage to show the Olympics. I did not have any complaints from them about the World Cup and was able to watch pretty much every game online, as it was happening!

    July 30, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. jce

    Who needs NBC ???????????????????????????????????????? I sure don't, I just go online and can watch EVERY event I am interested in, LIVE !!!!!! Yeah..........-I am not one of these "NBC-suckers" who need to wait 5 hours to watch what they want !!!! GOOD BYE AND GOOD NIGHT, NBC ( the Olympic-Loser )

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