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. aaron

    NBC is a joke. MSNBC is a joke. Meredith Vieira? Shouldnt she be gearing up for another dismal episode of "The View"? And they wonder why they are in last place in the Network ratings week after week. I remember when FOX used to be that network....

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

    NBC should show at least the high-demand shows live/real-time, especially the awards. NBC has a handful of networks from NBC, NBC Sports all the way to Bravo – they 'can" dedicate a whole network to live if not parts of several to allow for concurrent big events at different venues. For 2012 that would mean US East coast getting up around 3 am. Twitterers can just deal already. If you fall asleep by before 3 p.m. (EST) they catch the replay in (US East) prime time, but dont blame NBC for tweets and feeds and multi-channel coverages. Sorry for the spoilers, but dont blame NBC for not putting the planet on a single time zone for a few weeks.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guillotina

      Brett you know, there is people who actually have friends overseas

      July 30, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Hartwig

    Time zone based delivery is only done to sell ad's, which i am sure it is doing. As for the people who want to watch events live and be a part of the excitement they get screwed. Can you imagine if they did this with the Super Bowl the outrage that would happen. Give it to me live, i can tape it at any point during the day. Also stop doing the dumb interviews instead of showing all the events. Also let me pay to watch the events online if i don't have a cable account.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      This. So much this.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. CNN ruined it for me!

    I found out about the Lochte gold in the 400M from a CNN Breaking News email. I didn't have to go to FB, Twitter, online news sites, etc. It literally popped up on my phone.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Drumcode

      LOL, you're going to blame CNN for this? Please, be serious. CNN do what they should, they report news as it happens. Blame NBC for their idiotic broadcasting model.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anon

      I agree – while this story covers the "spoilers" from social media, CNN seems to forget that it has spoiled numerous events for people doing something as innocent as opening up their Internet Explorer and glancing at their CNN homepage.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wootings

      ...you are aware that CNN is a news site, yes? And you are aware that Olympics results are news? And you are aware that you subscribed to a feed from CNN to get news updates?

      ...are you aware you have not the slightest basis for any complaint at all?

      July 30, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. the_dude

    People are so lame with their social media bs. I wish cell phones and the the internet would just die. Like if you don't tweet for a day you'll die.....what a croc.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Drumcode

      @the_dude: you must suck at life hating technology

      July 30, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • asdf

      complains incessantly about the internet...to the internet.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. asdf

    wow talk about the ultimate first-world-problem.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. CanadaRich

    Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer: Actually the last time the Olympics handed out solid gold "gold medals" was in Stockholm in 1912. In Barcelona like in this Olympics there was probably about 6 grams of actual gold, or 1.34% of the metal used to make the medal was actually gold. The rest is is silver and copper. In fact CNN had an interesting article on this exact topic over the weekend.

    I feel bad for you folks in America that are getting shoddy coverage. Here in Canada between CTV and TSN we are missing nothing. They run a live morning and afternoon/evening show and then during prime time have a recap show of the more popular events. Over the weekend it was great, though during the week the live airings won't do me much good considering I am at work.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • CanadaRich

      I forgot to mention to "Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer" Spain didn't send a soccer team full of 23 year olds and under out of the goodness of their own hearts. Every soccer team in the Olympics is 23 years and younger. Stern wants to do the same thing with the basketball, Kobe Bryant called him an idiot for it.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  8. HuPhartNgau

    NBCs coverage is a sorry excuse for 21st Century video media. The executives in charge of programming are apparently putting way too much emphasis on juggling dollars for advertising, than they are in bringing relevant popular sports into the American homes. Somebody that actually LIKES sports, needs to take over at NBC,cover the things that are popular to us (Jezzuss – haven't we seen enough bicycle races in the past few weeks) and actually AIR the programming they list.

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

    They say they do it to make prime time slots as valuable as possible, but how many total viewers are they losing due to people not wanting to watch tape delayed stuff at all? Seems like they'd have more TOTAL viewers if they just did it all live, and then offered tape-delayed stuff after hours.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Drumcode

    The amount of commercial breaks during the Opening Ceremony on BBC's feed = ZERO!!!!!!!

    July 30, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. karllinen

    It's the Olympics. Nothing to help the poor, downtrodden, left-behind masses.

    It is making some rich people richer, and creating potential future millionaires from the winners of these silly games who do nothing for humanity.

    The misplaced values of humanity...it never ends.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Drumcode

    We live in 21st Century ffs – abandon the idiotic prime time broadcast model! People are able to connect to streams from other Countries to watch the events!

    July 30, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Sickofitall

    Olympics....yawn.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Wootings

    As usual, the 80% has conveniently forgotten that 20% of all Americans live in rural areas that don't have any kind of broadband internet access – and possibly never will. Streaming *anything* online is a laughably preposterous idea for 1 in 5 Americans. Not to mention that if you don't have cable, you don't get access to it anyway...so if you use satellite instead of cable, or *gasp* don't have any pay-TV at all, then what?

    July 30, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  15. anon

    Well, China won gold in mens team gymnastics.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
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