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. DW

    It's too bad that NBC doesn't allow people without cable package to pay for the streaming. I have no desire to up my comcast level just to see the Olympics but I would pay for streaming.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edmund

      I pay don't have cable, I pay for Hulu Plus and Netflix. There is no legal way for me to view the olympics because NBC requires a cable subscription to watch their "free" coverage. There greed is forcing me to find other ways to watch: BBC, CBC, foreign live streams.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. bob

    Online is terrible. The ads come on MUCH TOO FREQUENTLY. With every person in gymnastics there was an ad. Ruined me for online.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Seth

    Social Media is to blame? Give me a break! We're getting live results plastered all over the internet from CNN to Yahoo to the Google home page. You can't open a laptop without seeing a spoiler. It's not the fault of social media that NBC is operating by 1992 standards.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. cedar rapids

    so why dont they show it live and then do a highlights show in the evening?

    July 30, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Less viewers, less profit, that's why. NBC only cares about the $$$ ... forget the Olympic spirit, forget modern technology, for them it's all about making the big bucks to stuff the fat cats even more.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam I. Am

      Makes a lot of sense to me, that's what I was thinking too. 5 – 8 hr time difference for most of USA, hard core fans could stay up and see the early events, (not many watch NBC's 1:30 AM – 5 AM offerings, I suspect) or see it in the morning for afternoon/evening events, etc. And those with daytime employment could see the evening taped highlights. Anyway, yeah, I agree with you.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  5. marsjr

    Well everyone and their mothers knew the US lost in the freestyle relay hours before the broadcast, but everyone I know still wanted to see how Lochte, the supposed new golden boy of swimming, managed to screw it up. In fact, I would dare say more people wanted to watch it because of the all the spoilers that filtered out. Just like more people wanted to watch the women's (more like girl's) gymnastics because everybody heard someone cried.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. bob b

    they tape only so they can get more & more ads every hour NBC greed

    July 30, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    I hated the opening ceremony. I loved the start where they covered the Industrial Revolution, but then it got dull and boring when they started showing Hollywood type clippings and kids on cellphones. Silly! For a country as old as Great Britain with all of its rich history, I was disappointed that they didn't cover more of it. I would have rather seen a display of their castles, the role the country played in colonialism and the different cultural aspects of all of the United Kingdom! And why was the Cualdron not built above the stadium to be in unison with the universe? And what was up with that dark stadium? The stadium was so dark, I thought it was difficult seeing the athletes until the cameras zoomed in closer. And what's up with all those empty seats? But I have to admit, the US sure looked splended in their made in China uniforms. Too bad they weren't made in the USA! Go home team!

    July 30, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Alonzo

    When is the curling going to be aired?

    July 30, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  9. mary

    I don't mind the tape delay – but I hate that they repeat stuff instead of show new stuff. I have seen enough of Michael Phelps already

    July 30, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jim

    Sports should be broadcast live. NBC can rebroadcast the historical events as much as they want at another time. Must also comment with their tape delay, it is pathetic to switch from one event to another. Next time let a professional group handle the Olympics.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Engineer

    Yeah, I love how news reports keep repeating that you can watch them online. Well, YOU CAN WATCH IT ONLINE, ONLY IF YOU HAVE CABLE OR SATELLITE TV, and even then, you can't watch it online if you are like me, and only have broadcast basic (local channels and a few news/weather stations).

    July 30, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ryan

    I agree with Cedar Rapids....I would have watched yesterday if I were able to see it live. Why not show it live and then again in primetime!!

    July 30, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. KS

    How about just not subscribe to the tweets or anything until you watch? Voila!

    July 30, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Roger

    Yet when someone wants to watch game 7 of the world series after it happens and wants it to remain a surprise, they have no problem staying off the news websites, twitter accounts, or facebook until they watch it.

    So, do it for the duration of the olympics and you might be surprised how easy it was to be off social media. I haven't been on it for.....well, ever.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    There's been fencing, table tennis, weight lifting and and a bunch of other events but all we see is swimming, diving and volleyball. America has athletes in just about every sport, so why not alternate and show a few minutes of every event? I find that to be un-democratic.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
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