One of the most talked-about topics in this summer’s Olympics has been NBC’s choice to tape-delay certain events and broadcast them in primetime rather than broadcasting them live. In addition to the tape-delayed broadcasts, though, NBC has also been providing live streaming of the events for cable and satellite subscribers.
Critics of NBC’s coverage, particularly of the choice to tape-delay the events, have pointed to mistakes made by the network, such as NBC’s spoiling of Missy Franklin’s gold medal winning breaststroke race. One Today Show promo showed Franklin clutching her gold medal before the event had even been aired on television, which meant that countless viewers watched the race already knowing the results. Even when NBC doesn’t spoil the results, it’s easy to read about them on the internet, making for a less suspenseful Games.
Other criticism has focused on NBC’s choice to edit certain events, such as the women’s gymnastics finals, seemingly to create more tension and to force the events into a certain storyline. NBC didn’t air Russian gymnast Ksenia Afanasyeva’s floor routine, in which she fell, all but securing Team USA their gold medals even before they performed. Without her fall, the competition appeared far closer than it otherwise would have.
On the other hand, the first weekend of this year’s Olympics averaged 36 million viewers, the most of any Olympics since they began being televised with 1960’s Rome Games. More viewers tuned in on Sunday night than to any night of the Beijing, Athens, or Sydney Olympics, and ratings have been up 10% from Beijing. NBC lost $200 million broadcasting the 2010 Vancouver Games, and paid $4.38 billion for the right to broadcast the Games in 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020, but London is set to make a profit.
Moreover, tape-delaying the Games allows viewers to tune in during primetime hours. The men’s 100 meter freestyle would have aired at 5 a.m. on the East Coast if NBC had aired the Games live. Gymnastics would have been at 11:30 a.m., the middle of the work day.
Weigh in: What do you think of NBC’s coverage of the Games?
Does tape-delaying the events detract from the thrill of live sports, or allow viewers to watch at convenient times?
Does a narrative make the Games more exciting, or do you find it frustratingly artificial?