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. Blue

    As part of the 75% of the US that don't care about/use Twitter, the "spoiler" aspect doesn't matter to me. MY issue with NBC's horrid coverage is all the stupid, boring, useless back-story crud. This "Americal Idol" style coverage of the athletes SUCKS. For every 5 minute "story of struggle", we the viewers miss 5 minutes of amazing ACTUAL PERFORMANCE!

    Cut out all the storylines and just show the events. If I want to find out more about China's third tier skeet shooter, I'll Look it up!

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

    Their online streaming does not even work ok. For hot events, it breaks and stops and sucks

    July 30, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Safe in Texas

      This is what happens when the absolute worse station won the bid to broadcasat the olympics. I also have to chuckle about the Brits and everyone else that had a problem with Mr. Romney's question "are you ready for the OLympics" or something to that – the Brits were mad but, hey, look at the empty seats in the VIP section??? How about that? Mr. Romney was right AGAIN!

      July 30, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  3. marsjr

    My question is, what percent of the population actually has the time to watch it live? Probably the same group of people that has the time to complain about it. More people would prefer to watch the good events on a time that they can actually watch it. And I think the fact that you have an idea what's going to happen makes it more exciting.

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

    Doesn't matter, unless you have cable your not allowed to watch any of it. No obvious option to even pay to watch it!
    Its time to make the Olympics less commercial, return it to its roots.

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

      Its only in the US, for all other countries the olympics is broadcasted live on public TV. It is also streamed for free on the internet by for example BBC, but they block US citizens from watching, I guess otherwise NBC would get upset.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rich978745

      They have always been commercial since the rise of media. If less commercial, then who pays for it? I know you would want the government to foot the bill. That would be socialism by big brother.

      July 30, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. sami

    What is the complaint here? Olympic coverage? Olympic utopia? Oy Vey!

    July 30, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tom

    Shouldn't this have been anticipated by NBC, and the decision made to broadcast live? I guess they make more $$$ by delaying until prime time when the ads will bring in the big bucks. Profit overrides the need to inform in real time!

    July 30, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Josh

    NBC should provide "live" coverage on one of its many cable channels, and just do highlights on its main NBC channel at night.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jodie

    In my opinion, there are more viewers this year because there is literally NO other option. In California, you can watch live online at around 3 AM, or, you can hear the results at 10 in the morning and wait for the East Coasters to remind you of the results the rest of the world told you, so that FINALLY at 7:30 Pacific, you get to see the events. I went online to see what sort of REPLAYS they offered. Yeah, none for the "Primetime" events. Only for the stuff that isn't aired in primetime. So basically, if I want to watch the Olympic events that are considered prime, I have to do it during their broadcast, or I have to do it illegally, which has gotten more difficult now that BBC and CTV both recognize proxy servers. NBC should offer an online option that we can pay for. They'd make tons of money.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    I don't have a problem with the tape delay on weekdays because of the time difference especially when most Americans are at work during the day. But they events should be shown live on weekends when most are at home. But I agree that the result should be withheld from being displayed on the internet.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ron

    Since they didnt observe the moment of silence for the victims in Munich they have aligned themselves with the Nazi Olympic Committee who helped the PLO kill Israeli athletes. NBC derves to be called out on this yet no one in the left wing media will do it.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tim

    Seems like a pretty simple problem. If you want to watch it before hearing about it online, then just watch it and don't read about it online.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  12. basketcase

    #firstworldproblems much?

    July 30, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Richie

    What is up with Bob Costas? Can't NBC get someone who doesn't drive us crazy? what's up with the hair peice?

    July 30, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Clubfoot Charley

    What in the world did they think would happen? Hasn't NBC ever heard of the Internet? or Social Media? Somebody was asleep at the wheel. I guess they figure it's easier to just apologize for lousy coverage...than to lose revenue. Hopefully another network will take the Olympics away next time and do it right.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Terrell Carey

    I was expecting that. I've been avoiding any sports news or facebook

    July 30, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
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