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. Laurie in Spokane

    Well, my take on it is taped is fine. If you want instantaneous results tweet or face-book about it. If you don't want to know results until you see the taping, don't go on face-book or twitter. Pretty simple huh?

    July 31, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  2. Mark

    The coverage is a mixed bag of good and bad decisions. There has been so much attention paid to the specific problems brought about by the time delay, that the other aspects of the coverage have not been often addressed. They are doing some things well, and some things poorly. The thing that most bothers me while watching is their neglect of the events as sporting events, focusing rather on the entire games as some huge drama to be covered as a human interest story. I was watching gymnsatics and was treated to a running description of the athletes emotional reactions and tight camera shots of their faces and hugs, while other important performances, good and bad, were unfolding in a different direction. More importantly, I was treated to the emotional reactions of the athletes to the announcement of their scores, while not being shown, or even told what the scores were. Can you imagine a football game where they had the camera on the kickers face and didn't bother to show the kick, and rarely bothered to mention or show the score? It is a sporting event rich in human interest stories, not a primetime drama with scores as a plot device and a subplot. I can handle a time delay. I knew about that when I turned on the games. I turned off the games when I realized they weren't covering the games, but rather crafting a multi-billion dollar, weeks long, human interest, Hollywood-style biopic.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  3. BMCc

    Some of us have jobs. Don't really want to watch table tennis in prime time. Maybe the media should stop leaking the results and the rest of you maybe not look at your Twitter account for a couple of hours.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  4. gary gilchrist

    There is a small percentage of people that aren't happy regardless of the issue. Hey, if you don't like tape delay tell the IOC to move the Olympics to the U. S. permanently or better yet, don't televise the Olympics anymore. Oh, a final idea – discontinue the Olympics.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ram

      These are real world championship not for name sake.. only USA plays and call it world champions!!!

      August 1, 2012 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Pele

      Every 4 years I can watch the world's most popular sporting event, the World Cup, live on TV, no matter what crazy time zone it's in. Even here in America, people get up at any hour of the day to see the final, whether it means going to the bar at 10am, or staying up in their pajamas for a 3am match.

      It's baffling that the Olympics, which by all rights ought to be bigger, are given such second-class treatment.

      It's not about the tape delay, per se, though that certainly exacerbates it. The bigger issue is that we're not getting proper sports coverage. It's a little bit of sports coverage, mixed with feel-good stories about the athletes, mixed with pointless celebrity interviews, into some kind of Reality TV mashup of the Olympics.

      For comparison, the World Cup doesn't even cut to commercial breaks while the teams are on the field.

      August 1, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. conrad shull

    Later. I have a job.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jerry

    Phelps wins gold but we won't see it for another 7-8 hours

    July 31, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. duklips

    London is 5 hours ahead of Eastern time; ergo, events that occur at 8:00 at night in London would be live in the Eastern U.S. at 3 in the afternoon. What do you people want NBC to do(suggestions, please)? And are you so married to your devices that you can't wait to watch tape delay at night? Do you work during the day? What a bunch of crybabies.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • livingston

      Just air it live during the day and show the highlights at night. We already know the results. This is 2012, we can already find it live online.

      July 31, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • RD

      I so agree. NBC has no control as to the times events are being held in London. That means getting up at 4am EST to see an event happening at 9am in London. It would be even worse for the west coast. How many people are going to run to their TV's to do that? Not to mention all the events that are happening at the same time. Not enough channels, and how would it be decided which event to show "live." That's the whole purpose of the live streaming online – watch it live when you want and whatever event you want. Sure, there may be some hiccups in the streaming, but think of the magnitude of the process. I also agree about the whiners – how can people watch it live all day – don't folks work? The media outlets and individual bloggers are giving out spoilers; you can't have it both ways. Live with it. To me, Prime Time is just fine for those who work and want to know how the results came to be.

      July 31, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave-o

      Run it as it happens. Almost EVERYONE has a Tivo/DVR/VCR (for those tape holdouts) these days. Run it as it happens and people will figure out how to watch it, if they want to.

      NBC blew this big time. BIG time.

      August 13, 2012 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  8. huujn

    love Australian racial discrimination with a Canadian if American with a Briton

    July 31, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sunshine100


      August 13, 2012 at 6:37 am | Report abuse |
  9. Sarah In CA

    I would prefer to see highly anticipated events or "battles/matches" live during the day. There is no problem with showing them again the evening for "prime time".

    July 31, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Sarah In CA

    Also.. I prefer watching things on TV, I don't want to also be tied to my computer or iPad.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mike Fraser

    I wonder if we will have anything like the BBC has with the red button where you can choose what even you want to watch whether it's live or archived.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. riamb60

    I am wating for Romney's horse to compete.
    Also they should show a little bit of everything, and show the events that won the gold medal, those are the best of the best.

    August 1, 2012 at 8:35 am | Report abuse |
  13. Ram

    This shows where america is going. Taliban may be watching live olympic but not america :)). This all due to commericial interest of IOC and NBC.

    August 1, 2012 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
  14. mitchell

    They-NBC should do what ESPN did with the British Open (which got huge ratings), show it live then show a replay in prime time,double ratings. win win

    August 1, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Red

    I do not mind the tape delay. It makes it easier for those of us who work to see it. As for the spoilers. I prefer the spoilers and am enjoying the olympics better this year because of them. But as I know most people do not like them I think networks need to have a seperate link so as not to mess it up for those that do not want to know.

    August 1, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
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