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. Jerry

    Why doesn't NBC at least show live events during the Weekend when people are likely to be home.

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

      heres an idea-stay off of facebook and twitter for a couple of weeks. it may amaze you that yes, you will still live!

      July 30, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. s

    idk a thing about twitter, so i don't know how possible it is or isn't to NOT see spoilers, but it seems to me that if you don't want to know, don't read. the nightly news reporters actually tell give a vocal spoiler alert, so you can avoid that. idk anyone who is on FB all day, and no one i know posted anything aside from that the opening ceremony was great. does anyone read an actual newspaper? so NBC or whoever may cover any sporting event is supposed to pre-empt any and all other t.v. programming to air the events live, no matter what time of day or night? is it me, or is this just the absolute stupidest thing to complain about?

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

      It's you.

      It's 2012. We're the only country that does not have the events live because NBC has decided they must control what we see and "offer" the live events online, which barely work and others cannot use their streaming service. It is ridiculous.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  3. systemfailure

    Its the digital age, NBC pays over a billion dollars for "broadcast" rights, then spends most of its time showing me interviews!!!!!!! and one more ! to follow up with that.

    You can if you really wanted to avoid the results, but I have a issue with nbc artificially trying to create ratings in thier system to sell to advertisers, when in reality, most poeple will watch a 5 min clip 4 hours before and be done with it.

    Like other poeple said its 2012 already, let us pay for streaming, or heck stream them! They are still trying to market the way they did 50 years ago, becuase people cant get around how to do business in todays world.

    Ill watch advertising for free content, but who cares if you drawer a 12 share between 7 pm and 11 pm. Its a 24/7 world now, change yoru perspective.

    Also, 2:30 pm Saturday, sit down with family to watch the Phelps Lochte matchup and WAM another interview instead (ARRRGGGHHH show me rowing , anyting, besides these silly interviews, interview them after they WIN something or lose in historic fashing or something, its not news when they come in 6th or something, becuase that is the reality of thier ability.)

    NBC has had terrible coverage so far in these games with complete randomness at times in what they want to present ot us.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    The lighting of the Cualdron at the Barcelona Olympics were without a doubt the best ever in Olympic history with the Archer unleashing that flaming arrow into the air, igniting the Cualdron to the world's dismay. And by the way, there was another special thing about the Barcelona Olympics...for the first time in Olympic history, the gold medals presented were pure gold! And the Spaniards did it again at the London Games...yes, unlike America, Spain didn't send their professional dream soccer team that just won the World Cup and the European cup. Instead they sent their under 23 team. Too bad America is such whimps, they had to send pro NBA players to compete against amateurs just becasue they got their butts kicked at the Seoul Olympics. Where is the fun in that? Pathetic!

    July 30, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • memerycd

      @Blah, Blah – Yup the archer lighting the cauldren was cool – other than that your message is pure ignorance. Gold medals haven't been pure gold since 1912 – they are 92% silver – even at Barcelona... and the last time I checked, Pau Gasol was a professional NBA player – he's playing for Spain....

      July 30, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. CW

    Ironic that you write a blog about this yet has been doing the EXACT same thing by posting results right on your main webpage with no spoiler warning and even sending out breaking news alerts with results before they air in prime time. So you cant just put the blame on NBC when CNN fails just as hard.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • RB

      100% AGREED!!!!

      Ruined the 400m IM last night for me. I made the mistake of checking 20 minutes before the NBC broadcast. The results were right at the top of the website and unfortunately, impossible to not see. It is going to be tough for the next 2 weeks to try to stay in the dark before I get home from work watch in the evening . . .

      July 30, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mallory Simon, CNN News blog editor

      CW. Thanks for your comments. I think it is a challenge for all involved with how things are broadcast globally. So, I'm curious: What would your ideal Olympic coverage look like?

      July 30, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. NotTheMama


    July 30, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Yago

    Tokyo, 1964, the first Opening Ceremony of an Olympic Game being Broadcast. Years of developments, technology, and efforts to turn the Olympic Games in a World Wide event, were all the nations share, on single event, once ever 4 years, until this years, thanks to NBC. This is a direct prove of the greed of the Media Corporation over what people considers important. Ratings over Historical Moments. Every single Olympic ceremony must be broadcasted Live. For those that missed it, NBC could replay it again later. Spoilers, come on, what kind of argument is that? NBC once agains acted shamefully and ignoring what it's important for people. Does anyone remember NBC broadcast of 4th of July in Boston? Well, they only showed the fireworks ignoring the Boston Pops 1812 Overture. And BTW, Americans were not able to see the 5 min Memorial of the London Terrorist Attack of 2007, because NBC Chopped off. Tasteless and offensive

    July 30, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  8. One Cent

    The guy who did the commentary during Team Parade on NBC was horrid. Every 4 years the same guy comes up and he talks about political issues of the country parading.. Give me a break.. I care less when Afghans are marching if UK is part of NATO or not.. I care less if Iran has political problems when the atheletes are walking. Can you idiot just talk about games and not talk about politics during Olympics. He did that in Beijing and now he did it again.. Sick..

    July 30, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JCM

    It has been 36 years ago, but didn't the Olympics in 1976 air day and night? I seem to remember watching a lot of diving and prelim on gymnastics in afternoons, then whole family watching finals at night. Is NBC even doing this? I know they did a little w/ 'sister' channels over weekend - but even that was not very much, then Bravo was right back to 'housewives of...' reruns. What a shame - that NBC cannot get organized enough for people to see contests as they happen, and that people cannot stay off social media or computers the days that they care about outcomes and have to wait until evening to see them.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. fearlessdude

    It is time to break up the IOC-NBC (or ABC) monopoly on Olympic coverage.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Karmina K

    If they're going to run a delay, then they need to stream it for free to smartphones live. The app is currently free, but you have to be a Dish member, and I pay my roommate my portion of the bill, so I can't see it live! This is ridiculous!

    July 30, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. David in Cincinnati

    No! NBC is NOT "airing all the events live online if you have a cable provider". NBC successfully blocked the opening ceremony and perhaps other events from live US showing online. And it has nothing to do with "spoilers". Some people like to watch live. Some also do not like the enormous rate of interruptions for NBC sponsors.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim B

      Um, uh, fella, NBC pays a ton of money to the Olympics so that the games can be put on. That money is repaid by NBC selling ads to those annoying advertisers. I agree that the ads are excessive – but that's in part because NBC tries to cram so much revenue generating into the evening broadcasts that they have to cut back on the sports. Personally I'd like to see less of Michael Phelp's past and more of his events this year, as well as more of other non-marquee events.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  13. NoCable

    I don't have cable so I can't watch any of the events live online even though I want to. I think this is ridiculous. I'd much rather be able to tune in a see things as they happen, but instead I either have to look for the spoilers or watch the ridiculous prime time mash up with too much Bob Costas.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. solex

    I think that everyone has the "instant gratification" bug – at least a little bit. As the tools have improved, so have people's expectations. It's like todays movies – unless the special effects are spectacular, the move quickly becomes Ho Hum.

    I purposely stay away from updates so I can relax and watch the events and enjoy them in Not-so-realtime.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mallory Simon, CNN News blog editor

      Agreed, soalex. Thanks for commenting. Would you prefer to be able to have the option to watch live on your TV so you didn't have to stay away from updates? What would your ideal coverage look like?

      July 30, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tim B

    The article missed one thing in its attacks on FB, Google and Twitter... CNN Spoilers.

    Sorry guys, you too are just as guilty of the spoilage as any other source. CNN spoils events as soon as they happen, not even bothering to wait until they're aired by NBC in Eastern Time (let alone in Pacific Time).

    The bottom line is that NBC fails in all directions. During the day they are okay when they use 3 of their five channels to show actual Olympic events, with the fail being that they're always too amero-centric. But then "Prime Time" comes and NBC shrinks from 3-5 channels down to one. Sure it's nice to see the swimmers and bits of the gymnastics, but what about the other teams, the other sports? Couldn't they dedicate one or more other channels to other events in case someone isn't all tied up in the particular "up close and personal" story they've got running on the flagship channel?

    Tape delay is fine, and the premier prime time show could continue to be the highlights they are now. But show the events live and as they happen, marquee events and small ones too. Why give a taste of table tennis just because

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