The London 2012 Olympics arrive at a unique time in American cultural history, as social media becomes such an unavoidable part of people’s lives. With escalation in web- and mobile-based technologies, social media has surged since the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing. In 2008, Twitter had about 300,000 tweets per day; Facebook had about 100 million active users. Today, Twitter has about 400 million tweets per day, while Facebook sports 900 million active users.
NBC, the sole broadcasting company with rights to the Olympics in the U.S., attempted to embrace this rise in social media by providing live streaming coverage of all Olympic events on its website for the first time ever. With all 32 sports, 302 events, and over 3,500 hours of content available, NBCOlympics.com has gained popularity with 11.4 million videos watched on the first day of competition, triple the number from Beijing on its first day.
Due to the time difference, finals taking place in the evening in London are taped and broadcasted nightly — about a five-hour delay. NBC’s hope is that with live streaming available online and tape-delayed broadcasts, social media buffs who visit Twitter, news websites, and blogs all day will keep talking about results — even if negative — thus giving folks more of an incentive to watch later and increasing prime-time audiences.
This strategy is surely causing some headaches, to say the least. Last Friday, the rest of the world watched the opening ceremonies live, while U.S. audiences were held hostage by NBC. The ceremonies were taped and broadcasted six hours later to many bewildered Americans who thought they were watching the ceremonies live. This has turned into a daily reoccurrence ever since, and Americans are getting more and more upset about news media and friends “spoiling” their nightly Olympic viewing.
On Monday, Guy Adams, a Los Angeles correspondent of the Independent, a British newspaper, was kicked off Twitter after tweeting the work e-mail address of Gray Zenkel, the president of NBC Olympics. Upset with Zenkel for not covering all events live on television, Adams advised followers to tell Zenkel what they thought about “pretending the Olympics [hadn’t] started yet” (a recent campaign to “Free Adams” reinstated the correspondent’s account yesterday as Twitter apologized for the mistake their Trust and Safety team made in suspending his account).
Adams argued that Americans should be watching an international sporting event live — especially one such as the Olympics — not, “like it’s 1975 when people had to gather around a fuzzy television screen.” It’s an archaic strategy NBC is using, and there’s no doubt it’s fueled by primetime ratings and commercials. That being said, NBC isn’t the only culprit in this spoiler concern; Americans are as well.
Some of social media’s biggest moments have been live events hosted in the United States such as the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards, which were broadcasted simultaneously live across all time zones with unknown outcomes. The 2012 Games are already being seen as “fractured” by entitled Americans who aren’t able to watch them live when it’s most convenient: after work.
Here’s how to fix the Olympic spoiler problem: There’s no doubt NBC should be broadcasting the most popular events live during the day. If you can’t see them live because you’re at work, watch them later via a delayed re-run of the live broadcast. But seriously, get over the Olympic spoiler thing and stop blaming social media. I hate to break it to you, but neither the Olympics nor the rest of the world revolve around the United States. Sorry, folks.