It all started when those 200 or so little globular torches were lit two weeks ago. It started even before the 2012 Summer Olympics’ Opening Ceremonies hit U.S. airwaves, by about 5 hours. Where much of the world saw the much anticipated, awe-inspiring event live, the U.S. saw it in tape delay. Americans didn’t seem to like that, and that’s when the criticism started.
With laptops, smartphones, and tablets, many Americans always have a computer at their fingertips. With so many options for following Olympics, broadcast exclusively by NBC and its multiple networks, live. Apparently NBC felt that with so many gadgets, Americans could surely occupy themselves with the endless number of apps, tweets, and instantaneous bulletins available, instead of live Olympics coverage.
Some have found that airing the Olympics in tape delay allows NBC to effectively choose its programming and to efficiently edit down any superfluous moments. It can build up to and really focus on the drama of the few Lochte-Phelps showdowns or the “Fierce Five” gymnastics squad’s gold medal-win or Misty and Keri’s “threepeat” of gold medals in beach volleyball (spoiler alert?). Imagine watching the drama of beach volleyball’s “Golden Girls” at 2:00 in the afternoon—in broad daylight. Not much excitement to be found there.
But many viewers have come up with their own solution for NBC: broadcast the Games live in the afternoon and again in primetime. Sure, viewership wouldn’t be as high in primetime, but the overall ratings would likely increase when one considers the viewership from both sessions, according to many. According to a Gallup poll, 7 of 10 of Americans who are watching the Olympics “a lot” want top televised events—that means the Lochte-Phelps showdowns, Gabby Douglas’s “golden” all-around night, and Misty and Keri’s “threepeat”—televised both live and on tape delay. Per Gallup’s analysis, “At the same time, higher-income and more-educated Americans are also the most likely to say they want both live and taped television coverage of the most popular events, suggesting these groups might watch even more Olympics — and more ads — if there were live coverage of the most popular events.”
After NBC’s choice to broadcast the first Lochte-Phelps showdown (400m IM) and Usain Bolt’s defense of his 100m gold, the hashtag “#NBCfail” really started to catch fire on Twitter. A parody account by the name @NBCDelayed has even arisen among the ashes, updating followers on legendary swimmer Mark Spitz’s 1972 Olympic feats, to name a few.
Clearly, Twitter followers are not remaining quiet about the controversy—perhaps stirring the pot yet further—but they’re not out of step with the millions of other Americans who want a live Olympics first and a taped one second. Nothing appears likely to change come this Sunday’s closing ceremonies—what with NBC maintaining an astounding average of 33.6 million viewers per night. Yet this should indicate desire for certain broadcast changes for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics.