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. WayneLVN

    So Lewis will be jumping soon? Is Mary Lou Retton going to win gold? And finally is Ali fighting over the weekend?

    Seems to me NBC can do the fancy package in prime time all they want. Lots of people work so it will be live for them. But the rest of us would like to see live events before SportsCenter tells us about them. And if you guys on the East coast think you have it bad, try the West Coast. They are already cranking up the next day before we see anything about today.

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

    I think NBCs coverage is a joke! They pretend like it's all live and it's not! I know it's tape - they know it's tape - why all the pretense! I don't care that they show it tape delay during prime time, but cut the crappy pretense! They could show a bunch more events (fencing, badmitton, archery ....) if they'd quit the pretense that it's all live and we *MUST* wait on the judges decision! WHY? That decision was rendered hours ago!

    And don't even get me started on which events *I* want to see! I use a *LOCAL* cable company, so streaming over the net is not an option to me. If it were, I wouldn't watch *ANY* of the broadcast!

    July 30, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. BeckyJS

    What "poll below"?? All I see is this comment space. I think NBC is doing a gd job of using all avenues available. Even tho I hv my dvr set to record the general coverage & the basketball channel while I'm @ work, I'd still like to get the results via twitter as soon as they happen. If u don't want to kno then don't check twitter/fb accts that may spoil it b4 watching via ur preferred method.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  4. 6thgreen

    What makes me angry is I can't watch either. I have high speed internet and would love to watch online. Heck I would even watch the live version of what they show in primetime. Unfortunately I live in an area where we don't receive TV reception from a local NBC affiliate station because we are too far away. I don't have cable so I can't watch the live stuff online because I don't have billing information. I think at the very least they should provide the primetime (tape delayed) stuff for people like me for free........anyone with antenna gets it for free why shouldn't I? NBC stinks at televising hockey as well. Not happy with them but this happens every year so its no surprise.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
  5. cx

    Delayed broadcasting aside, another thing is that instead of broadcasting the games in its full integrated form, NBC chose to edit the sport events and make it look more like a TV drama than a sport game. People who are interested in knowing the whole game but not just how US players perform have no clue what is going on. NBC is raping the Olympic games this way!

    July 30, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Beadlesaz

      NBC is a corporation answerable to shareholders. It is in the business of making money. The AVERAGE viewer wants it packaged. So that is what NBC is going to do. Maybe by the next Olympics, ESPN will be in charge and then only those with expanded cable will be able to watch it (i.e., like Monday night football which is held in stadiums paid for by the taxpayers.)

      July 30, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Murfy

    I'm still upset that ESPN tape delayed the July 4th Nathan's Hot Dog Eating contest to show Wimbledon matches.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Beadlesaz

      Murfy – how traumatic for you. I can't imagine the suffering. ;-)))

      July 30, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. HappyTimeFunPerson

    To all the people on here complaining about CNN having live results: You are part of the problem! By whining about live "spoilers" you are supporting NBC's continued tape delay nonsense.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Beadlesaz

    This is a no-win for NBC. If they showed the major events during the day, people would be mad because they're at work. If they show them during prime time, people get mad because they already know the results. I think people just like to complain. How sad.

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

    For those of you complaining – start saving your money so you can go to Rio in 2016. Problem solved.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. T Tuthill

    Unable to find any live coverage on-line from credible sources. Rather upset that you have to have a cable or TV subscription to watch via NBC. We don't watch TV but the Olympics is something we want to view. Kind of upset about the spirit of the thing in general...I mean this is a world event...shouldn't the whole world be able to watch for FREE via the net now? I guess not.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Getoverit

    In the words of Mylie Cyrus, it's the climb. Do we watch sports to see who won or how they won? if it's the former, continue with the headlines and getoverit. If it's the latter, read the headlines, then getoverit and watch how they did it. In other words, getoverit and enjoy the climb. Jeez ...

    July 30, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Thomas Bist

    LIVE every minute from start to finish should be live summer and winter olympics.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frans

      I agree, my other complaint is, when they are showing something that the US is not involved in...Ala the GB gymnists, they showed the gap between GB and the Ukraine once....then they didnt show the final GB athletes score, nor the final scores for the top four teams....Biased reporting at its worst...I understand that NBC wants to show all things American, however how many different nationalities live in the US??? and they get punished by not being able to view their countries efforts because they live here???? The US has always had the worst and most biased coverage of the Olympics since I can remember....

      July 31, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
  13. Shawn Chellis

    II understand the need for tape delay. Unless the popular events are scheduled when they'd be on in prime time here there is going to be a tape delay. Can't be helped. They could be aired live, but people would complain that they weren't home to see them.

    What they can do is actually show the events. I'm glad that I DVRed the Monday night program it allowed me to skip through the fluff pieces, and the standing around prior to the event. Who's idea was it to edit out the actual gymnastics and show everyone just standing around. If you are going to go with tape delay then treat it like NFL Redzone and only show the moments that matter. The coverage last night ended with pretty much the announcers saying trust us China won, dang where they impressive.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
  14. Hpswimmer

    Some people have lives (and jobs) and can't stay up until 11pm to watch certain events. I work early in the morning and I would like to be able to watch my fair share of "prime" Olympic events...

    July 31, 2012 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
  15. Russ

    We're not in a big city with big city cable company so we don't qualify for NBC online anyway, what a messed up way to offer that to only a select few

    July 31, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
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