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. ton

    Ironic that CNN has this article when it is CNN who keeps spoiling the results before we get to watch them on tv.

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

      Agreed, agreed, 1000 times agreed. I had to uninstall CNN from my iPhone because I couldn't force it to stop sending me spoilers.

      July 30, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    @memerycd

    Yes, Gasol played in the NBA but how many NBA quality players do foreign countries produce? An average of two every decade and a half while the US produces hundreds NBA quality players annually. Furthermore, basketball is a national sport in America but in Spain and every other foreign country, the national sport is not basketball but soccer. There there is no comparison whatsoever. I say let's return to college players and take our whopping like men. And by the way, the gold medal at the Barcelona games were pure gold. You should look it up.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. walterfaerman

    I want to watch live events ,not part of NBC business

    July 30, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. jnpa

    NBC's lousey coverage started with the opening ceremony and continues to this day. It is really very pathetic!

    July 30, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Rob

    NBC is definitely behind the times. I think they just aired that Darth Vader is Luke's father....

    July 30, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Shelley

    If one channel wants to be our delivery service for the Games, then deliver them all day. Don't whine that you might lose money. Then do the nightly recap like you've been doing. Why should I have to sit at my computer to watch?? I I have a large HD tv to watch stuff in the comfort of my livingroom, AND it's the summer! Any number or the family are in and out during the day, it's tough to put a mix of two adults and three teenagers around the computer to watch.

    Do it right, run them all day with limited commercials, and continue wrap up at night. Also, NBC promoted the heck out fo the paralympics for their own benefit and then basically shunned them.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Roger

    So I have a question....how is this situation any different to any of the Olympic coverage from the past 10 years? They show the best events at night during primetime, that's nothing new. The problem is all you Twitter-wh*res and Facebook junkies gripe because now you are TOO connected.

    Unplug.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      The answer: Not at all. I have always detested Olympics coverage. I want to see the people that don't have a chance, not just the top contenders.

      July 30, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. steve

    stop whining – if you don't want to know who won and watch it later – don't subscribe to and read the tweets and don't look at the internet, facebook – whatever. It's called a job – do it during the US daylight hours and watch the Olympics later

    July 30, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. LOL

    I just love it when I'm watching my favorite event and ... because it's already happened and the annoucer KNOWS what is happening he ruins it all. For instance. Watch as the Chinese high bar gymnast falls. Why? WHY?

    July 30, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. MightyMoo

    That is the price you pay for living in a digital world. Time waits for no man and in the information age information doesn't wait either in the digital world. Embrace it or be behind the times really.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Norm

    With the 24/7 media coverage on a daily basis, why is it even an issue about showing the games live.
    It's been done like that for years.
    I bet Romney has something to do with this.
    Is he outsourcing the coverage now?

    July 30, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Burbank

    If people don't want internet spoilers, then don't look. It's not rocket science. Current arrangement works fine. If you are so accicted to the internet you can't go without for a few hours, then maybe that's something to think about, take seriously and change.

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

    CNN has already e-mails several "Breaking News" stories about Phelps. Who at CNN decided what is and isn't a "Breaking New" story worthy of e-mailing everyone? Stop it!!

    July 30, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. daisy311

    My problem is that I'm tired of the diving teams and Phelps already! The Today show only interviewed anyone involved in diving, including coaches. There are other sports as well as other athletes with just as astonishing feats - ie, Shooter Kimberly Rhode made Olympic Games history for the US. I'd like to watch them. If NBC thinks a sport is not worthy of its viewers, let us remember, who would've thought dancing on TV would be a popular show? And who knows if some younger viewers might be interested in other sports if only they could see them on TV for inspiration.
    And, yes, this is a world-wide sporting event, so showcasing athletes from other countries (not just the USA) would be interesting and informative. What a missed opportunity to show that good things happen in other countries, not just war and violence as seen on the typical newscast.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rich978745

      Nice post. I agree

      July 30, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Charlie

    The article doesn't address the fact that you can't watch any online events unless you already get a pay cable service. If you don't you are SOL. Ordinary broadcast viewers have only once choice, which is tape delay. I agree there should be some option for a one-time fee to watch the Olympics. Or put it on iTunes. I missed the first part of the opening ceremony, and it is absolutely ridiculous in this day and age that if you missed it on NBC, there is NO WAY to legally view it in its entirety later. What is this, 1980?

    July 30, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
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