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. Drumcode

    @Wootings – Herman Cain says: "blame yourself"!

    July 30, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bella111

    Everything is about MONEY!!! NBC wants to broadcast the most popular events during the pick time around 9-10pm to rake BIG $$$ from brainwashing us with ads .... and to hell with people, who cares that they want to see Olympics live.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edward111

      oooh...another victim of big corp greed. let me guess.....obama/biden 2012

      July 30, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. I95FL

    How about the local news & CNN not posting until the events have been actually aired on television. Swimming and Gymnastics are my favorites to watch. One of the problems I have with the 'tape delay' is they will do one section of Gymnastics, then switch to Swimming, then gymnastics. I say if it has already been completed, play the entire event together, ie US Women's Gymnastics last night on NBC, should have been followed by the next group. Which finished gymnastics for the day, then follow up with the swimming. NBC has been covering the Olympics for a while now. It's time to get another network a chance. The last time ABC aired the games were in 1984.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Burning River Man

    Yeah, I really hate spoilers. Like when CNN sent a push notification to my iPhone at the beginning of the opening ceremony spoiling the well kept secret of who would light the torch at the end.

    Lets be fair CNN, its not all NBC and Twitter ruining the games.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Athena6515

    NBC has essential ruined the spirit of the Olympics for me. I enjoy watching and ROOTING for my team. Now, I know that my rooting is futile, the event ended hours ago and now I know it. I know the results and I'll watch, but the joy is gone. I knew phelps/lochte is swimming at 2-3 on saturday, the results are everywhere but I can't see it. You know the results and Yes I watched the REPLAY at night to finally "see it", but there was no joy to it. I wasn't at the edge of my seat waiting to see who wins.. and cheering for my team and hoping for a phelps to pull ahead. I knew it was futile. They have ruined the "joy" of hope that watching the olympics proves. People are saying to stop reading "spoilers", it's unreasonable.You want me to stop "living my life" for 2-3 weeks so I can watch a delayed event on tv with joy? You want me to not talk to anyone, not watch any sports channel/news channel, not use FB, Twitter, read the news because they can't show it live on tv because THEY want to charge more for advertising for that event and they can charge more AT night? Thanks, I'm glad you care about your customers. It was a Saturday, families were home at 2:30, we wanted to watch it- LIVE. I am watching it online since I'm a paying cable customer however individual events have no commentator and it's hard to follow some of the sports, etc, but I don't understand why you can't have a package like they have for MLB, NFL, Tennis, Golf, NCAA Basketball, Etc. Just make the pricing reasonable- $25.00- No problem.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Uh

      Uh, why can't you see it? NBC is streaming everything live online.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Drumcode

    Spoilers? Idiots, it's news not spoilers. Once again, blame NBC, not CNN.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. LinSea

    I WANT IT LIVE!!! NBC has no excuse for their scheduling except for being money-grubbing jerks. I live in the Pacific time zone and even for the 2010 Winter Games, which were held in the same time zone, they still provided relatively little live coverage. There are events I for which I would definitely go to bed early and wake up at 5 a.m. if necessary, or stay awake late to get to see them live. If NBC wants to have the prime-time wrap-up, fine, but they have access to about eight different cable channels and could provide much better coverage of live events.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. lyle

    we like watching it live in Canada

    July 30, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Sarah

    What I don't understand, is why the Olympics can't be a Pay-Per-View sort of deal. I understand having the mash-up for the evening viewers, but don't understand why dedicated tracksters, for example, can't just watch the entire thing, not just the finales unless there happens to be an American in the race. Yes, I know they have live-streaming now, and that is an improvement, but it does diddly squat for my parents who are still stuck on dial-up. Plus, watching it on the computer is not nearly as comfortable as sitting in front of the big screen tv.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  10. disagreement

    Hmmmmm this is a difficult situation. While NBC made the best decision for them and for most of us who work, something still needs to be done here.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Roger

    This isn't the latest Batman movie. There are NO "spoilers." They are called "results," and if you don't want to know them then don't come to CNN, MSN, Fox or any of the new channels. Turn off your Twitter accounts, avoid Facebook, and watch the games in tape delay if you REALLY want to watch them happen.

    OR just find out when it happens, as it's happening, and be glad we have a system of communication that's allowing information to flow rapidly. There are other countries that don't have that luxury.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edward111

      well said Roger. No matter what NBC does.....they are wrong since they are a corporation.

      these are the same whiners who post OWS bla bla bla on twitter and facebook on their ipads

      July 30, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Edward111

    all of you whiners will still be crying when the olympics become pay-per-view and you have to pay.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      I would be more than happy to pay to watch full-coverage of track and field. On the other hand, I would mostly ignore the equestrian stuff that my mother would be glued to. That's the beauty of event-specific pay-per-view. You can watch what you really like and just get the traditional overview for everything else.

      July 30, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Pam

    Well CNN appears to be the worst at spoiling the olympics for me. I get e-mails with breaking news from CNN and every one so far has been about who won what ever at the olmpics. there is no way to know if the e-mail is about the olympics or something major happening in the world unless you open it and read it. Thanks!

    July 30, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carlos

      then unsubscribe... Jeez....

      July 30, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Roger

      Simple solution....unsubscribe.

      July 30, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rich978745

      Easy solution. Turn off the breaking news options on the site. Some of us want instant gratification but only when it's convenient to us. Can't have it both ways.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Carlos

    So if we could keep everyone in ignorance then everything would be awesome... REALLY....?

    NBC is soooo out of touch with the new world.... what a dinosaur whomever is making the decisions there... in NBC

    soo... if we could keep the country in darkness we could have broadcast the Miami Heat OKC game an hour later because no one would care.....

    These monsters are the ones who want to control the internet.... SHAME ON YOU NBC

    July 30, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  15. mike

    I like it because I can't take the suspense.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Romin2003

      I'm right there with you...I have a weak heart and dislike surprise and this way I can pick and choose which delayed event I'd want to watch, with the added bonus of already knowing what happened. I'd rather read that Phelps is performing poorly than watch it with my own eyes. #disappointed.

      July 30, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
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