The Perils of Tape Delay in the Social Media Age

Adam Chappelle@@adamchappelleContributor IJuly 28, 2012

OMAHA, NE - JULY 01:  (From right) Michael Phelps, Tom Sheilds, Tim Phillips and Ryan Lochte prepare to swim in the championship final of the Men's 100 m Butterfly during Day Seven of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials at CenturyLink Center on July 1, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

"I wonder who won that 400 IM race with Phelps and Lochte," said no one with a Facebook or Twitter account.

Tape delay has been around forever; it was the basis of most sporting events worldwide for decades and still is rather common in countries without a 24-hour news and sports media.

As recently as 1986 (well within my lifetime), CBS ran the NBA Finals on tape delay at 11:30 p.m. or later so local sports anchors could not 'scoop' the story unless they were at the event itself.

Just 26 years ago, basketball fans in Houston and Los Angeles couldn't even watch their teams play for a title on live TV.

That was fine in the 70s, 80s and most of the 90s, when there was no such thing as the Internet. Cell phones were the size of a loaf of bread, and a laptop computer was largely unavailable to anyone who didn't resemble Gordon Gekko. 

This is 2012.

The London Games are being hailed as the "social media games" (just ask Voula Papachristou) and nothing made this more evident than a highly-anticipated Michael Phelps-Ryan Lochte duel on Day One of the Games.

The 400 IM wrapped up shortly after 3:15 p.m. ET, with Twitter and Facebook announcing Lochte's gold and Phelps' failure nearly immediately. Local media near Lochte's hometown of Daytona Beach had the news on their Facebook page some five-plus hours before it ran on American television.

It begs the question, why would NBC insist on not showing this race until primetime? As the race was going on, Ryan Seacrest was doing a canned piece with the US gymnasts.

Even Dallas Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki tweeted, "Can't believe they didn't show Phelps Lochte live. Now, we all know who won. This is frustrating."

Tape delaying the Opening Ceremonies in order to run them in primetime is one thing. Postponing LIVE events just to save them until primetime is perfectly fine...if you're in 1988. Everyone knows who won the gold by now (Lochte), so what's the point in watching? 

Now, we wait and see how many people DID end up watching. Maybe we'll learn tape delay in a social media world isn't as dumb as we think—only ratings will tell.