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. Sue

    I work during the day so I"m glad NBC puts the most popular events in the evening. Now if CNN wouild quit sending out News Alerts with the results I'd be a happy camper. Or, at the least CNN could do it put "Olympic Results" in the subject line....

    July 30, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pam

      That is exactly my complaint. I don't want to un-subscribe as some have suggested because they might send me an update about a major world event.

      July 30, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Crys

    I don't think that NBC really could win with this. If they showed the major events during the day, people will be on here complaining that they can't watch the events because they're working and can't get to the TV. If they show them at Primetime, people complain that people on Twitter have spoiled the events. If they don't show events online, people complain that it's inconvenient. If they show them online, people complain because they're not on TV. My conclusion? People just like to complain.

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

      great point Crys.... if you want to watch the Olympics LIVE, then i suggest you move every 4 years to the host Country and get live coverage.... unforunately, tape delay is the REALITY when events happen half way around the world. Maybe you all should stop complaining and go back to watching "Grimm"..... oh wait, that won't be back on til after the Olympics

      July 30, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  3. RichWW2

    It's 2012. You should be able to watch it live on TV SOMEWHERE. If NBC wants to replay the events in Prime Time for the general public thats fine. But they should be offered live for people to watch if they want to.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Michael Feirstein

    The American people are missing a great Olympics thanks to NBC's coverage

    What's all this about the "digital age". Radio has been around for decades; the internet (without tweeting and social media) for two+ decades. One has to be an ostreich not to know who won the Phelps/Lochte race before it appeared on NBC's evening coverage. It's just not that interesting once you know how it comes out.

    Would you not broadcast the Kentucky Derby live and save it for evening prime time? The suspense is gone. Without it, the race is a two minute rehash of a bunch of galloping horses.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. g.t.

    most viewers are oblivious to the fact that the games are delayed and they do not care. These viewers are casual fans who will eat up whatever narrative is delivered to them. If you take time to post here you are not a casual viewer and are a minority and lower priority to NBC's ratings guys. ( i am assuming this is NBCs reasoning)

    July 30, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Seth

    Amazing how the people in the US have to have the worst coverage og the Olympics, almost every country have live broadcast and a prime time summary. Big, big, NBC fail

    July 30, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dave

    With a commercials every 2 min it is crazy not even worth watching.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Craig

    Your poll needs another category: I would watch NBC streaming online but I'm cable-free so they won't let me.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ajaybharadwaj

    Olympics all around the world are being telecast live..Is NBC suggesting that we Americans don't deserve to watch it live?

    July 30, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Hobbits

    CNN is the one really at fault there. How dare CNN accuse social media when they reported the French beating the US in the 4x meter relay on Sunday. Hours before it was aired on US televisions, CNN.com headlines with the French victory. No way of missing it or any attempt by CNN to bury is deep in the story with a spoiler alert. All you had to do with go to CNN.com and it was splashed all over the screen. Pot calls kettle black!

    July 30, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. EDDIE

    NBC is soooooooooo 20th Century. How dumb can they be? Very DUMB!

    July 30, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  12. CommonSensed

    You can't have it both ways Twits and FBers. Stop whining or log out. As for NBC...once again their coverage is meh. I want to view the Judo video on my tablet and half the vids don't work and most finals are missing. Sigh.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mike from CT

    It's even worst then this because NBC's own site list the stories on the front page and spoils it. So if I go to see a volleyball game I know who won the swimming event. Thanks NBC

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

    Communicate the old fashioned way. Text your buddies. Call your family. Don't resort to mass-media unless you want to be spoiled. Mono-y-mono contact for the next two weeks. Show some commitment people.

    I don't feel bad for somebody who's 38th best friend spoils an event with a post.

    NBC is simply trying to put great events in prime time. They are doing a great job.

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

      "Communicate the old fashioned way. Text your buddies."
      Texting is now "the old fashioned way"? Wow.

      July 30, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. 60minuteman

    I would watch it on the internet, but I ain't going to give one single nickle to any stinking cable provider to do it. I would rather NOT watch it all. When I first signed up for cable it was $7.95 a month. It's hard to find anything decent now for less than $50.00 a month and I refuse to pay it. And by the way, I don't need or want 2 dozen home shopping channels and 2 dozen religious channels. And I can only watch ONE CHANNEL AT A TIME ANYWAY!!!!!!!

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

      I do watch the Olympics live on the BBC at ATDHE. http/88.80.11.29/
      Put that in your pipe and smoke it NBC!

      July 30, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
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